Prosecutor: No Charges in Deadly Stand Your Ground Shooting
Prosecutors will not file charges against security guard Seth Browning, who shot and killed Brandon Baker, 30, of Palm Harbor. Documents obtained by Palm Harbor Patch reveal that Baker had cocaine and alcohol in his system when he attacked Browning.
Prosecutors say they will not file charges against off-duty security guard Seth Browning, 23, in connection with the deadly roadside shooting of a Palm Harbor man last March.
Back in April, the State Attorney's Office opened an investigation into the death of Brandon Baker, 30, who was shot and killed around 2 a.m. March 6, on the road leading to his Boot Ranch apartment complex. Browning and Baker had pulled over after having an interaction while driving their vehicles on East Lake Road. Browning told investigators he shot Baker after Baker approached him in an aggressive manner. Baker's family wanted Browning arrested and charged in connection with the shooting.
The State Attorney's Office filed paperwork Monday morning that ended its four month-long investigation into the case.
"We are not filing charges," Assistant State Attorney Bill Loughery told Palm Harbor Patch.
"The bottom line is, this was justifiable use of deadly force. ... It's a rather long and involved investigation," he said.
Monday morning, Palm Harbor Patch obtained the nine-page memo that Loughery sent to Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe.
Memo Reveals New Details
The memo revealed new details about the case, including what happened prior to the deadly exchange. Brandon Baker, his girlfriend Amy Marcellus, 35, and Brandon's twin brother, Christopher Baker, had been drinking at a bar in Hudson. They left around 2 a.m. to go home to the apartment they shared at Egret Landing Apartments in East Lake's Boot Ranch community.
They stopped at a 7-Eleven to get gas. Brandon and Amy got into an argument that left Amy crying and upset, according to the memo. The group then continued on their way to the apartment, driving south on East Lake Road.
What Seth Browning Told Investigators
The memo explained Seth Browning's version of what happened:
"Seth Browning stated that after Brandon Baker passed him driving erratically, he pulled beside him to see if the driver (Brandon Baker) was all right. Seth Browning said he gave Brandon Baker a 'thumbs up' sign which Brandon Baker acknowledged with a wave of his hand that Seth Browning interpreted as 'follow me.' This happened at the Boot Ranch Road turn and Seth Browning, with little reflection, followed …
"It is unfortunate that Seth Browning chose to follow Brandon Baker as he turned onto Boot Ranch Road, but there is nothing improper or illegal in his doing so. The brief interaction on East Lake Road, as described by Seth Browning, does not suggest a road rage scenario whereby Seth Browning would reasonably believe he was creating or joining a confrontation.
"Per Seth Browning, his motivation to follow Brandon Baker was based on attempting to get his tag number (due to erratic driving) and his curiosity which is not controverted by any other evidence. Based upon Brandon Baker's level of intoxication, it appears highly likely Brandon Baker was driving erratically, and the getting of his tag number was the reasonable actions of a concerned citizen.
"After stopping, Seth Browning repeatedly stated he was not expecting any type of hostile confrontation. Brandon Baker came to his open car window 'extremely offensive.' Seth Browning was distracted by Christopher Baker stopping behind him. Brandon Baker began striking Seth Browning inside Seth Browning's Lancer. Seth Browning pepper-sprayed Brandon in defense of himself. Brandon Baker continued to strike Seth Browning after the spray. The second person (Christopher Baker) was quickly approaching and Seth Browning's fear increased.
"Seth Browning believed the pepper spray emptied and Brandon Baker continued to attack him so he felt he 'had to end it' so he retrieved his firearm from the glove box, racked it and fired one shot into Brandon Baker as Brandon Baker was hitting him through his window. Brandon Baker staggered back from the window and Seth Browning felt the threat was over ... Seth Browning stated he stepped out of his car in a defensive stance after the shooting, and when he did so, he forgot his car was in drive, and it rolled forward, striking the back of Brandon Baker's truck. The minor collision is confirmed by physical evidence at the scene. This is important because it arguably demonstrates that Seth Browning wasn't lying in wait for Brandon Baker."
Other details in the memo:
- "Both Christopher Baker and Amy Marcellus indicated that Brandon Baker had approximately three drinks that evening. They also indicated that they never saw him use any drugs. In fact, the toxicology report showed the Brandon Baker was under the influence of both alcohol and cocaine. His blood alcohol level was .166 medical blood, clearly inconsistent with the number of drinks they stated he consumed. Assuming the time frame they indicated he was drinking, according to accepted alcohol analysis software used to calculate blood alcohol content, Brandon Baker would have to have ingested 8-10 more drinks than what they said. Also, he had cocaine in his system that was still active. According to the Medical Examiner, the amount of cocaine in Brandon Baker's system would be consistent with someone who had done a significant amount of cocaine earlier in the evening."
- "Brandon Baker's level of intoxication, from both alcohol and cocaine, makes it reasonable to conclude that Seth Browning's description of Brandon Baker's aggression is plausible. Additionally, Brandon Baker had just minutes before been involved in an emotional argument with Amy Marcellus and was angry prior to crossing paths with Seth Browning."
- "The autopsy shows that Brandon Baker was killed by a single gunshot to the left chest area, toward the armpit. ... Dr. Thogmartin's opinion was that the firearm was one to two inches from Brandon Baker when fired. The FDLE's analysis of Brandon Baker's shirt concluded that the gun was fired contact/near contact. Knowing that Seth Browning was sitting in his car, this evidence shows that Brandon Baker was bent over with his left arm up, consistent with Seth Browning describing Brandon Baker as leaning into his car, striking him."
- "In conclusion, based upon the quickly unfolding circumstances, Seth Browning was the victim of a burglary/battery (statutorily defined as a forcible felony), when Brandon Baker attacked Seth Browning as he sat in his vehicle. Seth Browning attempted to use non-deadly force when he pepper-sprayed Brandon Baker in response. This non-deadly force did not deter Brandon Baker's violence. The applicable law, colloquially referred to as "Stand Your Ground," presumes that Seth Browning had a reasonable fear of imminent death or great bodily harm. This law also presumes that Brandon Baker entered Seth Browning's vehicle with the intent to commit an unlawful act involving force or violence. (Jury instructions attached). Seth Browning had no legal duty to retreat before using the deadly force; which factually did not appear to be an option ... Seth Browning's statements are corroborated by the physical evidence and under these circumstances, Seth Browning's killing of Brandon Baker was a justifiable use of deadly force."
- "My recommendation is that no criminal charges be filed as they could not be legally sustained. The evidence conclusively proves that Seth Browning would successfully assert the defense of justifiable use of deadly force."
Brandon Baker's father, Kevin Lindsay, has not yet responded to phone calls and an email sent last Friday about the decision.
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