After celebrating with friends, an intoxicated young man knocked on the wrong door at a Fort Myers townhome – one that looked exactly like the one where he lived. It was a stupid mistake in the middle of the night.
But it cost Ryan Modell his life. And the man who killed him walked away scot-free, thanks to a prosecutor’s misguided interpretation of Florida’s “stand your ground” law.
I am joining Modell’s grieving father in calling for Gov. Ron DeSantis to give this case the second look it deserves. Justice should be served, not sacrificed again on the altar of a controversial law.
According to police reports, Modell, 32, was celebrating with friends into the early hours of March 20, 2016. He had too much to drink and decided to walk to his home at Unit 102 of his complex. But Modell mistakenly ended up at Unit 102 in the wrong building – where James Steven Taylor lived.
Modell knocked loudly until Taylor opened the door and told him he was at the wrong place. According to Taylor, Modell rushed forward, so he slammed the door in Modell’s face and into his bare foot. Modell washed his bloody toe with a garden hose outside.
It could have – should have ended there. Modell was in the driveway unarmed, no threat to anyone, and Taylor’s wife, who had already called 911, was told that the police were on the way and that she and her husband should wait safely inside until officers arrived.
Instead, Taylor confronted an unarmed Modell with a 10mm Glock handgun. In Taylor’s sworn deposition, he even admitted that it was his act of lighting up Ryan’s face with the laser from his gun that triggered Modell’s response of running toward him.
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Under Florida’s “stand your ground” law, a person can use deadly force if it’s “necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm.” The level of force used may not exceed the level of force shown by the threat – deadly force for deadly force. Yet Taylor fatally shot Modell, even though the unarmed man in no way posed an equal threat.
A state attorney declined to prosecute Taylor, or even take the case to a grand jury, based on Florida’s “stand your ground” law.
This case is so unjust that even former foes are in agreement. In 2012, while representing Trayvon Martin’s family, I vehemently objected to attorney Mark O’Mara’s claim that George Zimmerman was justified in his use of deadly force under any semblance of Florida’s “stand your ground” law.
O’Mara and I remain in stark disagreement about the use of “stand your ground” in Trayvon’s case. But eight years later, we are in agreement on the Modell case: Prosecutors should not allow Taylor to hide behind Florida’s “stand your ground” law.
I believe in the legal system in Florida, and I believe it’s to everyone’s benefit to ensure that the “stand your ground” law is applied properly, sparingly and only as needed. It should not become the go-to defense for every killer who invokes it, and it should not be a license for vigilantism.
It should be a last resort for citizens in real danger. It should not protect a knee-jerk reaction by an angry guy awakened in the middle of the night by his neighbor.
Ben Crump is a civil rights attorney and founder of the national law firm Ben Crump Law, based in Tallahassee.