LAKELAND (FOX 13) - Video released Monday by Lakeland police shows a store owner shoot a suspected shoplifter as the suspect tried to leave the store. It’s a key piece of evidence in the investigation into the confrontation, which ended with the death of the suspect.
It was back on October 3 when Michael Dunn – who is also a Lakeland City Commissioner – confronted Cristobal Lopez inside the Vets Army & Navy Surplus on South Florida Avenue. At the time, police said Lopez – a 50-year-old homeless felon who was staying at a nearby shelter – had tried to leave the store with a hatchet down his pants.
Dunn stopped Lopez and asked if he would pay for the hatchet, resulting in what police called a “confrontation” at the door of the shop. Police said Dunn fired two shots at Lopez, who died at the scene from his injuries.
The State Attorney’s Office is now deciding whether to charge Dunn. The day after the shooting, the commissioner’s attorney told FOX 13 that Dunn was in fear for his life when he fired at Lopez.
“Michael had to do things under split seconds to protect himself, his business and his community,” Rusty Franklin said.
The silent video released Monday is from a surveillance camera near the door. It shows Dunn, armed with a handgun, struggling to keep Lopez from leaving the store. As Lopez brushes by him and heads out the door, Dunn grabs Lopez by the shirt.
Lopez manages to pull free of Dunn’s grasp, turning back towards Dunn in the process. That’s when Dunn fires the first shot, sending Lopez reeling backwards. The video shows Dunn almost immediately fire a second shot at the falling suspect.
Lopez collapses on the ground, his body blocking the store’s door from fully closing. A pool of blood slowly forms around him and he stops moving about a minute after the shooting.
Dunn can be seen walking around Lopez until the video ends about three minutes after the shooting.
The footage does not appear to show anything in Lopez’s left hand as he is shot; it's not clear if there is an object in his right hand. At no point in the few seconds of video is the hatchet obviously visible.
Though Dunn has not been charged, Lakeland police noted in the video’s release that they are still investigating what led up to the shooting.
“Though citizens may have strong feelings about what is depicted, we ask you to remain patient as our department continues to work with the State Attorney's Office to investigate,” LPD spokesman Gary Gross offered.
State Attorney Brian Haas said Monday that the investigation should be wrapped up by the end of this week.
Editor's note: In the video shared here, FOX 13 chose to freeze the footage at the frame before the first shot was fired.