Video shows Florida city official kill fleeing shoplifting suspect

Video released in the fatal shooting of an alleged shoplifter at a Florida military surplus store shows Lakeland city Commissioner Michael Dunn fire the shot that killed the man.

Dunn, a vocal supporter of gun rights, is a co-owner of Vets Army Navy Surplus, located at 819 N. Florida Ave. in Lakeland. According to the Tampa Bay Times, Dunn was not arrested following the Oct. 3 shooting, which police officials have labeled a "death-justifiable homicide investigation."

Lakeland detectives, along with the Florida State Attorney's Office, are investigating the case. Brian Haas, state attorney for the 10th Judicial District, told the Times he anticipates the investigation being concluded by the end of the week.

Surveillance video released Monday by police officials shows Dunn, 47, confronting Christobal Lopez, 50, of Wauchula, about a $16 hatchet Dunn said he saw Lopez conceal and try to leave with. Dunn holds a handgun in his right hand and, as both men move into the camera frame, he pushes Lopez with his left.

Watch the footage released by investigators below. Warning: Some images may be too graphic for some viewers. The fatal confrontation between Dunn and Lopez begins at the 7-minute mark. 

As Lopez moves toward the door, Dunn tries to grab Lopez’s shoulder, but instead ends up with a fistful of the man’s shirt. Lopez raises his left arm, trying to break free.

Dunn then appears to fire at least one bullet into Lopez’s body. The alleged shoplifter falls to the ground just outside the door. An object which appears to be the hatchet is still in his right hand.

The mortally wounded man moves for a few seconds, seemingly trying to get up. Lopez then goes still, as Dunn keeps his gun trained on him.

The video continues for another three minutes, during which Dunn is seen moving in and out of the frame, the Times reported. No one tries to see if Lopez, who is face-down on the sidewalk, is alive or render first aid.

Lopez’s death was ruled a homicide.

Other footage released from inside the store appears to show Lopez take the hatchet and put it into the front of his pants. The grainy footage appears to show Dunn get up from his chair and place something in the back of his waistband.

The Lakeland Ledger reported that Dunn put a Glock handgun into his waistband.

Gary Gross, spokesman for the Lakeland Police Department, told reporters at the scene the day of the shooting that dispatchers received a call just after 2:30 p.m. of shots fired at the store. Responding officers found Lopez dead just outside the door.

Three employees were inside the store at the time of the shooting, including Dunn, Gross said.

Investigators learned from witness statements that Lopez entered the store with his father, a news release from the department said. As his father made a purchase, Dunn reportedly saw Lopez try to conceal a hatchet and leave the store without paying for it.

The surveillance footage shows what happened next.

Dunn's attorney, Rusty Franklin, told reporters following the shooting that his client was justified because Lopez had a hatchet in hand during their scuffle, the Times reported.

Tim Hessinger, a Tampa defense attorney and former state prosecutor, told the Times after viewing the video, however, that it does not appear to show Dunn in fear for his life when he fires at Lopez, who was struggling to get away.

"This is a very difficult case to defend," Hessinger told the newspaper.

Credit: City of Lakeland

Credit: City of Lakeland

Lopez's family is trying to make sense of why he was killed. His obituary stated that Lopez, who lived most of his life in Hardee County, worked as an agricultural laborer.

His sister, Veronica Lopez, told the Times following the shooting that her brother, who had a non-violent criminal history that included drug and shoplifting charges, did not deserve his fate.

"He was not a violent person," Veronica Lopez said. "My brother didn't need to be killed like some animal."

Lopez’s Oct. 3 shooting is not the first time Dunn, who took office in January, has shot a man. The Times reported that Dunn accidentally shot a man when he was 19 years old.

Reports at the time indicated that Dunn was pretending to draw a 9-mm handgun when the gun went off and a bullet traveled down an alley and struck a man in the elbow as he passed in his car. The shooting was ruled accidental and no charges were filed, the Times reported.

Dunn in July held a rally at his store to counter a March for our Lives rally held nearby, according to the Times. The March for our Lives movement was formed by students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where 17 students and faculty were gunned down on Valentine's Day.

Surviving students have become prominent activists for better gun control.

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