‘There’s no reason for somebody to go to an AR-15 over something as trivial as a parking issue,’ said Clearwater Police Chief Dan Slaughter. ‘[For] a person to arm themselves to be some kind of vigilante on parking is absurd.’
BY J.A. JONES, Staff Writer
CLEARWATER — The understanding of Second Amendment rights has been in flux for at least 80 years, and an incident in Clearwater last week reminds us why.
Read at face value, at a time when there was not a formal national military, it seemed the framers of the Constitution assured there would be a well-trained body of citizens who would help protect the nation’s constituents.
But when David H. Berry, the white male owner of Fat Finger Construction, who, according to one news source, has a “lengthy criminal history” — including at least three felony charges that include battery and burglary — pulled his AR-15 out due to Black landscapers parked in the street in a manner he didn’t like, it once again calls into question how the amendment’s power to maintain safety has been eroded during the last few decades.
It is also a reminder of the danger all citizens, Black, white, and others, can find themselves in when the Second Amendment right is not protected from those who would misuse it.
Berry is charged with brandishing an AR-15 rifle at Jeremy Lee and his daughter Carrie when a verbal altercation about Lee’s landscaping vehicle proceeded in a manner Berry claims he felt threatened by.
In a Facebook post on July 7, Berry can be heard yelling, “This is my property; you’re not allowed to block my driveway, don’t be a prick!” as he brandishes the AR-15. Lee, whose 22-year-old daughter Carrie was filming the incident, can be heard responding, “I told you I’ll move.”
Berry continues, “You think I’m playing, punk ass. Your daughter better take record of how stupid her father is! Keep recording; if it goes online, your ass will be sued, too!”
But the daughter was filming from the street, which is public property, and completely legal. Lee called the Clearwater police, but Berry had put away his gun and was not arrested by the time they arrived.
The Weekly Challenger reached out to Clearwater Police Chief Dan Slaughter, who noted that while it wasn’t protocol to talk about a case at this point, he wanted to dispel the rumors that the police department wasn’t doing anything about the incident.
He explained by phone: “We didn’t make an arrest that day, and I understand why the officers didn’t. But we are pursuing presenting the case to the state attorney on potential charges of aggravated assault with a firearm. There’s the other potential that the charge could include a reckless display of a firearm — but that’s a misdemeanor, and to a lesser charge, so we were proceeding with the higher of the charge.”
Chief Slaughter said the way a felony works in Pinellas County when an arrest isn’t made is that the incident is brought before the state attorney, with officers bringing victims and witnesses to the state’s attorney to give statements in person. It is the state’s attorney who, after reviewing all accounts and the police report, determines what happens next.
That, said Slaughter, is where the case stands now. He also noted that while he believes most firearms owners are responsible people, this person wasn’t. He relayed that he doesn’t condone what was done — and called Berry’s behavior “concerning.”
“There’s no reason for somebody to go to an AR -15 over something as trivial as a parking issue. [For] a person to arm themselves to be some kind of vigilante on parking is absurd.”
But Slaughter also acknowledged that this is “kind of what open carry looks like” and added that although Florida doesn’t have that yet, many states do.
He recommended that if a citizen feels a parking issue starts to escalate out of control, they should return to their homes and call the police, rather than getting a firearm or arguing with someone who may have revealed a gun.
Zebbie Atkinson IV, president of the NAACP Clearwater/Upper Pinellas County Branch, stated, “I’m not an attorney, but I think if the roles had been reversed, somebody would have ended up going to jail.”
Atkinson shared that the family reached out to the NAACP and is in the process of completing the necessary paperwork in order for the NAACP to “closely follow the case to make sure justice is served.”
Carrie Lee spoke to one news source after the incident, sharing that Berry told them that he would shoot them dead.
“I was so shocked that the reaction didn’t set in for a while,” she said. “But I was terrified. I am still terrified that someone would do this while we were just trying to do our work.”
Lee shared she believes the incident was racially motivated.