It started with a parking dispute at a Miami car wash. A man in an SUV pulled a gun. Then, so did the business owner.

It ended when SUV passenger Said Silwany strode toward 64-year-old John Haugabook, firing a fatal flurry of bullets into the chest of the car wash owner — a shooting depicted on shocking surveillance video.

Not surprisingly, Silwany claimed self-defense under Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, arguing that Haugabook was about to point his weapon at him — yet another case of armed citizens in Miami confronting each other in a public space. A Miami-Dade judge, however, has refused to dismiss the second-degree murder charge, ruling that Silwany was the clear aggressor.

“Silwany was a mere feet from his car while Haugabook held the gun pointed down at his side. Silwany could have taken the few steps to enter his car and drive away,” Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Miguel de la O wrote in a decision released late last month. “Instead, he made a conscious decision not to do so, escalated the situation by aggressively approaching Haugabook, and now seeks to be excused for killing Haugabook.”

Silwany, 32, remains in a Miami-Dade jail while awaiting a trial by jury. His defense attorneys, Pat Dray and Abe Laeser, say they will explore whether to appeal.

“He’s confident that a jury will reach the right result,” Dray said of his client. “The video is very clear — Haugabook was the aggressor.”

Stand Your Ground

Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, first passed in 2005, has long been a lightning rod for controversy — it eliminated a duty to retreat when confronting an aggressor threatening death or great bodily harm. It also gave judges the ability to grant “immunity” to someone they deem acted in self-defense, and later forced prosecutors at those hearings to shoulder the burden of proving a defendant did not act in self-defense.

Over the past 17 years, the law has figured in a steady stream of controversial shootings involving confrontations in public spaces, including the 2012 killing of Trayvon Martin in Sanford. Although gunman George Zimmerman did not ask for a pretrial immunity hearing, the jury that acquitted him heard the legal instructions that Zimmerman had “no duty to retreat.”

In Silwany’s case, the judge ruled, he did actually have a duty to retreat because he was the initial aggressor.

Like Silwany, many other high-profile defendants have sought immunity before trial, and lost.

That includes Kendall’s Omar Rodriguez, who shot and killed an unarmed man in a dispute over dog poop; four young men accused of beating up gay men at a Pride Parade on South Beach; and Tampa’s Curtis Reeves, who shot and killed an unarmed movie theater patron after the man threw popcorn at him (Reeves was acquitted at a jury trial).

In another notable case at a Miami-Dade car wash, prosecutors cited Florida’s Stand Your Ground law in not filing charges against an employee who shot and killed a would-be car thief at South Beach Finest Hand Car Wash in 2018.

The shooting

Haugabook’s shooting took place on Oct. 22, 2021, around 4 p.m. at the hand car wash next to a liquor store at 9125 NW 22nd Ave.

That afternoon, a Dodge Durango driven by Silwany’s sister parked in the car wash’s area. Haugabook approached and asked them to move the SUV, since they were not getting a car wash.

The sister moved the SUV to a different position, in the same area. Silwany, one of the passengers, got out and walked into the liquor store. As he walked out, video showed, he was seen holding a gun “without any provocation,” according to an arrest warrant.

Video showed Haugabook then pulled his own pistol, leaving it pointed down. The two “exchanged words” before Silwany stepped forward and the two appeared to argue. Then, as the argument escalated, Silwany fired 11 shots at the car wash owner, who appeared to try and return fire before crumpling to the ground.

Silwany, on the video, is seen picking up the mortally wounded man’s gun. According to police, Silwany got back into the SUV and the group drove off.

During a Stand Your Ground hearing last month, the video was parsed in detail.

Silwany, his lawyers said, opened fire because he saw Haugabook — who was a convicted felon and shouldn’t have possessed a weapon — had loudly racked his large pistol with a 30-round magazine. Silwany believed he was in the process of raising his arm, lawyers said.

“Quite simply, he responded to a clear and active deadly threat by an armed man who was trying to point his loaded handgun directly at him,” Dray wrote.

But the judge agreed with prosecutor Justin Funck, saying the video doesn’t back up the claim. In his 13-page order, de la O takes pains to point out that, in a place where both men had the right to have a gun, Silwany went too far.

He said Haugabook racked the weapon a full five seconds before Silwany “strode” toward the man — and “racking the gun is not an objective basis for believing someone is imminently going to fire their weapon.”

And Haugabook appeared to be lifting his hand to point at a parking spot but never pointed the weapon at Silwany, the judge said.

De la O stressed that “nothing Haugabook did could lead a reasonable person to believe they were in imminent danger of being shot,” adding: “Possessing and displaying a gun, standing alone, is not enough to justify murdering a person.”

This story was originally published June 2, 2022 6:00 AM.

David Ovalle covers crime and courts in Miami. A native of San Diego, he graduated from the University of Southern California and joined the Herald in 2002 as a sports reporter.