Calls are growing for the arrest of a woman accused of shooting dead her mother-of-four neighbor after she complained about the victim’s children playing outside.
The children of Ajike ‘AJ’ Owens were playing in a field near an apartment complex in Ocala, Florida, on Friday when her neighbor ‘began yelling at them to get off her land and calling them racial slurs’, renowned civil rights attorney Ben Crump said.
The children then accidentally left an iPad behind after leaving the field, Crump explained, before going back to fetch it.
But the neighbor, a 58-year-old white woman, who was not named, had taken the iPad and threw it at one of Ms Owens’ children, hitting the boy and cracking the screen, the attorney said.
The mother-of-four then marched across the street to speak with the neighbor after hearing of the incident.
The neighbor fired through the door, shooting Ms Owens. She later died at hospital from her injuries.
Police have so far made no arrests following Ms Owen’s death. Although Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods has confirmed police know the identity of the shooter, he said authorities are working to determine what role the state’s ‘stand your ground’ law might play in the incident.
Under Florida’s ‘stand your ground’ law, people are essentially permitted to use deadly force if they feel their lives are in danger.
‘Any time that we think or perceive or believe that [the “stand your ground” law] might come into play, we cannot make an arrest. The law specifically says that,’ Woods said at a press conference on Monday.
‘And what we have to rule out is whether this deadly force was justified or not before we can even make the arrest.
Woods said detectives were working with the State Attorney’s Office and must investigate possible self-defense claims before they can move forward with any possible criminal charges.
‘This is not a whodunnit. We know who did the shooting,’ Woods said. Marion County Sheriff’s office have not yet publicly identified the shooter.
Speaking at the press conference, Sheriff Woods also did not confirm or deny Crump’s account of the event. He said he was not ‘going to stand here and tell you what they’re putting out there is inaccurate. It’s just I don’t know yet.’
Woods said they haven’t interviewed Owens’ children, who witnessed the shooting, because investigators want child experts to work with the children. So most of the information the deputies have is coming from the shooter, Woods said.
Woods acknowledged that Owen’s children were engaged in a dispute with the neighbor prior to the shooting regarding them being on her lawn. He said officers have responded half-a-dozen times to complaints about the ongoing feud since January 2021.
Woods said the neighbor threw an object at one of the children and inadvertently hit them. He said it was a pair of skates while Crump said it was an iPad.
‘Was something thrown at them?’ Woods explained. ‘Yes, but not directly at them of what we’re being told now. It just unfortunately may have hit them.’
He added: ‘The children are a big part of answering a lot of our questions.’
Woods said police understood a heated exchange that took place between Ms Owens and the neighbor, describing it as an ‘aggressiveness back and forth from both of them’. However, he said police were only able to get one side of the story so far.
‘Whether it be banging on the doors, banging on the walls and threats being made. And then at that moment is when Ms Owens was shot through the door.’
Woods concluded: ‘I wish our shooter would have called us instead of taking actions into her own hands.’
Civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, who is representing Owens’ family, said in a statement that the shooter had been yelling racial slurs at the children before the confrontation with their mother. Owens and her children are Black. The sheriff’s office hasn’t confirmed there were slurs uttered or said whether race was a factor in the shooting.
Crump tweeted a picture of Ms Owens on Monday. ‘This is Ajike ‘AJ’ Owens – a mother of four fatally shot after she reportedly knocked on the door of a white woman’s residence to retrieve her child’s iPad.
‘It’s believed that Owens’ children accidentally left the device behind in a field they were playing in, and the woman took it.’
He told reporters that the fact there had been no arrest yet was ‘appalling’.
‘It is asinine when they try to justify this unjustifiable killing of this mother of four who was killed in front of her children. It is heartbreaking on every level,’ he told CNN.
Woods was joined at his news conference by community leaders and a local attorney retained by the family, Anthony Thomas. Their singular message was a call for patience while the sheriff’s office conducted its investigation.Ben Crump told reporters that the fact there had been no arrest yet was ‘appalling’. He is pictured arriving at federal court in New York, May 2’It is asinine when they try to justify this unjustifiable killing of this mother of four,’ Crump told CNN on Monday
During a vigil with the family later Monday, Thomas said the sheriff had promised him the most professional service that he and his deputies could provide, and Thomas plans to hold the agency to that.
During the same gathering, Owens’ mother, Pamela Dias, said that she was seeking justice for her daughter and her grandchildren.
‘My daughter, my grandchildren’s mother, was shot and killed with her 9-year-old son standing next to her,’ Dias said. ‘She had no weapon. She posed no imminent threat to anyone.’
This is just the latest incident involving Florida’s controversial ‘stand your ground’ law.
In April, one of two men who shot each other’s daughters in a road rage incident has seen his charges dropped after prosecutors decided he acted in self-defense under the legislation.
Frank Allison, 44, opened fire on William Hale, 36, after the two began swerving and brake-checking each other on a Florida highway last year. He shot at Hale’s car after the 36-year-old flung a water bottle into his car during the fight.
But authorities decided that his first shot was justifiable under Florida’s ‘stand your ground’ self-defense law, determining that Hale was at fault for the ensuing chaos.
Florida’s ‘stand your ground’ law – what does it cover?
In Florida, you are allowed to use deadly force to defend yourself if you believe you’re in danger of being killed or seriously harmed by another person.
But unlike other states’ laws, you are not required to try to run away first before engaging in the deadly force.
People can use ‘stand your ground’ when they think there is a genuine reason they are about to be the victim of a serious crime.
But the statue states that it can’t be used to defend someone engaging in criminal activity.
People also cannot evoke the law if they are using deadly force against a law enforcement officer who is performance their duties.
You can only use ‘stand your ground’ if the person is in a place where they’re legally allowed to be – so someone won’t be able to use the law while they’re breaking into someone’s home, for example.
According to Florida Statues Chapter 776: ‘A person is justified in using or threatening to use deadly force if he or she reasonably believes that using or threatening to use such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony.
‘A person who uses or threatens to use deadly force in accordance with this subsection does not have a duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground if the person using or threatening to use the deadly force is not engaged in a criminal activity and is in a place where he or she has a right to be.’