Edward Druzolowski, 78, is facing a second-degree murder charge in Florida after gunning down his neighbor over a tree cutting dispute. Brian Ford, 42, was on Druzolowski’s property trimming limbs from a tree between their property when Druzolowski told him to leave. What unfolded led not only to murder charges, but may lead to a controversial defense.
According to the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office, Druzolowski said that he was watching football on Sunday night when his wife told him that Ford was on their property cutting branches. He said that he was afraid of Ford because he would talk about his doing time in prison and fighting other inmates. He told the police that he brought the gun for protection, even though they had never had problems in the past.
Druzolowski said that he told Ford to get off his property and that Ford cursed him and told him to mind his own business. Druzolowski then pulled his gun and pointed it at Ford. He said that Ford was undeterred and said “‘You are pointing a gun at me, are you going to shoot me?’”
Druzolowski said Ford was approaching him as he told him to stop. He also said that he kept the first two chambers empty for safety. He said that he pulled the trigger on the first empty chamber, but Ford continued to advance. He then pulled the trigger again and it went off. Druzolowski insisted that he thought the second chamber was also empty.
Ford was shot in front of his young son.
The most helpful evidence for Druzolowski may have come from the child who told police that his father told Druzolowski, “I’ll cut your head off with the chain saw.” However, he said that the chain saw was not on or running at the time.
We have previously discussed Castle Doctrine laws or “make my day” laws, including other cases involving garage shootings or shootings off the property of the homeowner. This includes the Montana case of Brice Harper, 24, who gunned down Dan Fredenberg, 40, in his garage. Fredenberg, 40, was coming over to confront Harper about having an affair with his wife, Heather Fredenberg. Harper cut the encounter short by shooting him dead and a prosecutor declared that the shooting cannot be prosecuted given the state’s Castle Doctrine or “Make My Day” law.
The common law has long offered ample protections even for reasonable mistakes. These laws are based on an urban legend that people are routinely prosecuted for defending their homes from intruders. The laws have produced perverse results as in the controversial case of Tom Horn in Texas. Yet, the popularity of these laws have spawned “Make My Day Better” laws that extend the privilege of lethal force to businesses and cars.
Florida is a Castle Doctrine state as well as a Stand Your Ground state. That could factor heavily into the criminal investigation. The SYG law was widely debated with the George Zimmerman murder case.
The shooting in this case occurred outside of the house. It is likely also outside of the “curtilage” of the home, where the protection of the domicile can extend. However, Druzolowski is saying that Ford had the chain saw and was threatening him. A position partially supported by his son.
There is an allowance in torts for mistaken self-defense. In the case of Courvoisier v. Raymond, 23 Colo. 113 (1896), a man chased a group out of his home only to fire when a man approached him outside his home from the stone-throwing mob. It turned out to be a deputy sheriff but the court found that Courvoisier could rely on reasonable mistaken self-defense. The common law has long offered ample protections even for reasonable mistakes.
Of course, the difference is that, in Courvoisier, the victim was in fact armed and that was a violent confrontation occurring at the scene.
Juries often resolve doubts in favor of the shooter. It is often perplexing to some of us. For example, there was the notorious case involving the shooting of a Japanese student in Baton Rouge. The 16-year-old Japanese exchange student, Yoshihiro Hattori, was looking for a Halloween party and scared the wife of Rodney Peairs when he spoke a strange language and approached the house. Peairs shot him in the chest with a .44 Magnum handgun and was later cleared under a Make My Day law as mistaken defense of his home and self. We also saw a tragic such case involving the killing of a law student.
There was an equally baffling acquittal of a lawyer who shot an elderly farmer armed only with half of a broomstick used to guide his bull.
This could come down to whether Ford was holding the chain saw at the time, though Druzolowski’sadvanced age could factor into whether he “reasonably” believe that he was being threatened with “great bodily harm.”
Here is the relevant provision in the Stand Your Ground law:
A person is justified in using or threatening to use deadly force if he or she reasonably believes that using or threatening to use such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony. A person who uses or threatens to use deadly force in accordance with this subsection does not have a duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground if the person using or threatening to use the deadly force is not engaged in a criminal activity and is in a place where he or she has a right to be.