.

A Most American Way to Die

If you're an unarmed black teen in Florida, someone can gun you down – and they might get away with it

April 25, 2013
an american way to die
Illustration by John Ritter

This was some battle going on in that car, a cage match of warring colognes. Tevin Thompson, tall and soft-cheeked, had basted himself in Curve, swiped from the back of his parents' dresser, where the old man kept his more expensive smell-goods. Leland Brunson, small and snarky, the runt of the four-kid crew, was bumping Chanel and a couple of clashing lotions and smelled like mixed inserts from three men's mags. Jordan Davis, the prince – he of the red-hot girlfriend and every fly snapback sold online – was drenched in Armani and looking right. And Tommie Stornes, at the wheel of his Durango – well, who ever knew what Tommie was wearing? He kept the whole scent counter at Macy's in his car. True, he'd taken hours to get coifed and dressed to go girl-hunting at the mall, but as these boys liked to say, you can't rush greatness.

They hit the Town Center mall around 5 p.m. and found it hip-to-hip with Christmas shoppers. On this, the first evening after Thanksgiving, all of Jacksonville was out and about, walking of the torpor of candied yams at the fanciest galleria in northern Florida. The boys did their best impression of premium shoppers, four well-raised black teens from middle-class homes trying hard to stand out by blending in. They talked to – but whiffed with – a few of the upscale "honeys," browsed the stores for high-priced sneakers that they mostly owned already (Tevin bought a new pair every payday; Jordan, who'd just landed his first after-school job, was breaking his father's wallet with his shoe game) and began to make their way toward the exits. Then Jordan spotted Aliyah, his beautiful, on-off girlfriend, who was finishing up her shift at Urban Outfitters. They'd been on the rocks for weeks over the silliest teenage nonsense – he'd bought roses on her birthday but wouldn't bring them to school, convinced his friends would clown him till graduation. Now, though, she smiled at him, and Jordan's heart went clattering around his rib cage. "They needed to get back together so he'd stop talking about her," says Tevin. "Every . . . …single . . . …day, it was Aliyah this, Aliyah that. We're all like, 'Damn it, dude: Just call her already.'"

Gun Control: 45 Percent of the Senate Foils 90 Percent of America

And so now it was 7:00, and they were driving back to Jordan's to play Xbox on his father's big TV. A couple of miles away, they stopped at a Gate gas station so Tommie could run in for a pack of Newports. They were blasting Chief Keef through the half-down windows and busting on Jordan about Aliyah when a black Jetta pulled into the spot beside them. A woman got out and ducked into the store; the driver, a crew-cut moose of a white man named Michael David Dunn, cracked his window and told them to turn the noise down. "I hate that thug music," he had griped to his girlfriend before he sent her in to buy some wine and chips; Rhonda Rouer would tell detectives the next day that that was a "common" complaint of Dunn's. They had just come from the wedding of Dunn's only son and had left the reception early to get back to the hotel so he could walk their newly bought puppy.

The Gun Industry's Nine Most Outrageous Marketing Ploys

Tevin, in the front passenger seat, dialed the music down, but Jordan, sitting behind him, wouldn't have it. Unbelting himself, he reached across the console to crank the volume up. He and Dunn went at it, peppering f-bombs at each other. "You're not gonna talk to me like that!" yelled Dunn, reaching across the dash to his glove compartment. Tommie had come back and was strapping himself in when he saw a gun through the window of Dunn's car. "Duck!" he yelled and grabbed for the shifter when the first three shots hit his car. Several more rounds whacked the car as Tommie floored it backward and peeled out. He broke left, past the gas pumps, while bullets winged by. Dunn, half out of his Jetta and firing two-fisted, kept shooting at the fleeing Durango; one bullet pierced the liftgate and another clipped the visor, missing Tommie's skull by an inch.

He drove a hundred yards into the adjacent shopping plaza, stopped in front of a sandwich shop and jumped out to check on his friends. Tevin was somehow fine - his door had stopped the slugs. Leland, sitting behind Tommie, was OK too, though his hands and sleeves were wet with fresh blood. Jordan, however, was slumped in his lap. The first three shots had gone through his door; two of them lodged in his chest and groin. His eyes rolling back, he gasped for air as the three friends shrieked for help. "Jordan was making that rattle people make when they're dying," says Tevin. "That's when Leland started to cry. I hugged him and tried to tell him it'd be OK."

Tevin dialed 911, but someone had beaten him to it: The strip mall was packed with stunned bystanders. Two of them jotted down the Jetta's plate number as Dunn tore of, speeding up Southside Boulevard. Soon, the Gate gas station bristled with sirens: cops securing the crime scene and taking statements, collecting a dozen firsthand accounts; medics working feverishly to keep Jordan breathing as they loaded him into the ambulance; and detectives comforting his stricken friends, particularly Leland, who couldn't stop sobbing. Jordan was his best friend; they all but lived at each other's houses. "Jordan was my third son - I loved that boy," says Tanya Booth-Brunson, Leland's mother. "He had this shine on him that lit up the room. He was a star, and everyone knew it."

Shortly before noon the following day, deputies knocked on a door in Satellite Beach, three hours south down 95. Dunn, a computer programmer and gun enthusiast who'd fired his first rifle at three, stepped out onto the stoop of his beachfront condo. Fully six four and 280 pounds, he greeted the cops with the convivial air of a long-lost beer-league pal. In the interview box at the downtown precinct, he sloughed off the reading of his Miranda rights. According to Jordan's father, Dunn said he didn't need a lawyer, telling the detectives: They defied my orders. What was I supposed to do if they wouldn't listen? Appalled, the cops booked him on the spot, and he was eventually charged with first-degree murder and three counts of attempted murder.

But several days after the shooting, Dunn told the world through his hastily hired lawyer, Robin Lemonidis, that he fired 10 shots in a crowded shopping plaza because he felt threatened by the boys. They were gang members calling their gang buddies, said Lemonidis; Dunn had to act fast, before they did. Also, they were men piling out of the car, not high school boys cringing in terror. And third, there was this, thrown in for good measure: Dunn was sure he saw a shotgun aimed at him through the right rear window of the boys' car. (Damningly, though, he didn't tell his girlfriend about a gun before his arrest.) And with that, nine months after the killing of Trayvon Martin, the Gunshine State of Florida had spawned a second grotesque fraud: the killing of a defenseless black kid by an armed, angry white man invoking the worst law in America – the Stand Your Ground statute of self-defense.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

prev
Culture Main Next

blog comments powered by Disqus
Daily Newsletter

Get the latest RS news in your inbox.

Sign up to receive the Rolling Stone newsletter and special offers from RS and its
marketing partners.

X

We may use your e-mail address to send you the newsletter and offers that may interest you, on behalf of Rolling Stone and its partners. For more information please read our Privacy Policy.

 
www.expandtheroom.com