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'Stand Your Ground' Law Basis for Pensacola Protester’s Defense

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northescambia.com
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The man who was carried across the Pensacola Bay Bridge on the hood of a vehicle is invoking Florida’s self-defense statute in his defense.

On June 7, while helping block the Pensacola Bay Bridge an SUV – later found to be driven by Nathan Matusz, drove into the crowd, forcing Uphaus onto the hood.

Attorney Chris Klotz represents Jason Uphaus, who last month was part of the “Black Lives Matter” protest at the 17th Street railroad trestle and Bay Bridge.

“Just because you don’t want somebody in the road in front of you, and you’re on the road, does not give you the right to run somebody over because you’re frustrated or angry,” said Klotz.

After the trip over the bridge, Uphaus was able to get off the vehicle in Gulf Breeze. Pensacola police later arrested and charged him with two misdemeanors -- criminal mischief and disorderly conduct. Klotz contends using Stand Your Ground in this case is justified.

“Mr. Uphaus felt threatened by the gentleman who disregarded the police officer who was telling the driver to turn around and make a U-turn,” Klotz said. “And instead, [he] made a decision to disregard the police officer’s directions and sped into a standing crowd of people in the street. Florida law is pretty clear – that somebody using a vehicle in an aggressive manner that could cause injury or death – is considered a deadly weapon.”

With the defense motion to dismiss the charges now filed in Escambia County Court, it appears there could be a longer than usual waiting period. No judge has been assigned the case as yet, because of a vacancy on the bench in that court. An appointment is expected to be made in the coming months.

One obstacle to be overcome by the defense is that there’s no direct precedent on which to base a Stand Your Ground argument. Klotz says they’re exploring indirect legal history.

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Credit stevensonklotz.com
Attorney Chris Klotz.

“There are many cases where people have been attempted to be assaulted by a car, and deadly force has been used to prevent injury to the person who’s been threatened,” Klotz said. “But I have not found situations where non-lethal force is being used to stop essentially a deadly weapon vehicle; and then the person ended up getting charged with a crime because of it.”

Klotz adds that he’s also not aware of any similar incident nationwide, where a protester faces charges similar to those against Uphaus.

“In fairness, there are some small number of cases throughout the country where demonstrators have aggressively come towards a car, and actually the protesters have engaged a car,” said Klotz. “And then those people in the car have attempted to move away. Those people in the car would have a self-defense argument.”

A police report says Matusz was driving at a "slow enough speed where Uphaus could have gotten off the vehicle." Uphaus claims the SUV reached 50 miles per hour at one point.

“[Uphaus’] injuries were minor; I don’t want to speak out of turn, but I believe he’s recovered at this point – I’m not 100% sure about that,” said Klotz. “But the bodily injury to Mr. Uphaus is not really an element of the case at this point.”

Bottom line, reiterates attorney Chris Klotz, is that he likes their chances if and when the case comes to trial.

“There’s people who are frustrated and angry for whatever reason; and making a decision to hit people with a deadly weapon – a car – it’s just not acceptable,” said Klotz. “Fortunately, Florida has very strong laws and I hope we’re going to end up prevailing on this issue. I think it’s pretty clear-cut.”

A call out to the driver, Nathan Matusz, for comment has not been returned. He was not charged in the case.