- Associated Press - Saturday, March 26, 2016

SARASOTA, Fla. (AP) - Prosecutors in Polk County have dropped charges against a man who shot his neighbor during a confrontation.

The Herald-Tribune reports (https://bit.ly/1UPYj6e) Chris Brooks is relieved after wondering whether he would spend the rest of his life in prison.

Arrested Oct. 25, 2014 at his home in Polk County, the 39-year-old was charged with second-degree attempted murder for shooting his neighbor Curtis Hamrick during a confrontation.

Hamrick’s son had molested Brooks’ daughter several years before the shooting. Brooks maintained he shot his neighbor, who survived the wound, in self-defense.

Florida’s Stand Your Ground law has been controversial since it passed in 2005. This year, state lawmakers considered a bill that would have shifted the burden of proof to prosecutors from defendants in such cases, but it didn’t pass.

Before his arrest, Brooks supported his family by working several jobs throughout the region as a gunsmith, instructor and range officer, and at a small studio in Sarasota where he customized guns.

But the violent felony charge changed everything.

“I became toxic. No gun shop wants to hire someone who’s facing second-degree attempted murder charges,” he said. “I couldn’t even apply for a job bagging groceries because of the background check.”

This week, Polk County prosecutors announced they were dropping all charges against Brooks.

Their decision came in a five-page memo, which his attorney says raises even more questions about the shooting and why Brooks was charged in the first place.

In response to inquiries from the Herald-Tribune, Polk County Sheriff’s spokeswoman Donna Wood said the agency would not comment about the case.

Brooks lived in Mulberry, a small town in rural Polk County, with his then-fiancee and her two daughters.

In 2006, his fiancee’s daughter, who was 4 at the time, was molested by Hamrick’s stepson Bryan James Mace, then a 14-year-old who lived across the street.

Mace, now 22, pleaded no-contest to the charges, was adjudicated as a delinquent and was sent to a juvenile detention center.

When Mace was released, Brooks obtained a permanent restraining order barring him from coming within 500 feet of his home. The order effectively prohibited Mace from visiting his parents’ house, as it is well within the 500-foot limit.

About a month before the shooting, Mace was arrested for violating this court order, state records show.

“He was walking around the neighborhood and in front of our home very suspiciously,” Brooks said at the time. “I called the cops and they took him away.”

Mace pleaded no contest to violating the court order, was fined $50 and sentenced to one year of probation.

On Oct. 25, 2014 Brooks called authorities again, telling them Mace was in his driveway yelling obscenities and making threats against his daughter.

Mace was arrested, taken to the Polk County Jail and charged with violating the restraining order and violating his probation.

Efforts by the Herald-Tribune to reach him or his family for comment were not successful.

Once Mace was arrested, his family and friends began gathering at his parents’ home across the street, Brooks said, hurling insults and screaming threats. Brooks said he and his wife called the Sheriff’s Office numerous times for help.

That evening about 7 p.m., Brooks returned home and parked in the driveway.

As he was retrieving something from the back seat of his car two men approached him, Hamrick and a friend. Someone pushed Brooks.

“They said I was trying to ruin their son, and that I was gonna get it, and that I was in for it,” Brooks said at the time. “They knocked my glasses off. I couldn’t see. We struggled back and forth. That’s when I unzipped my bag, pulled my gun and made my shot.”

Court documents show that the .45-caliber round that Brooks fired penetrated Hamrick’s “upper left abdomen and continued through his upper left arm.”

Brooks said that he not only feared for his life, he worried the assailants would “get past me and get into the house and attack the girls.”

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide