Arguments begin in former Brevard deputy's 'stand your ground' hearing

Hearing scheduled for Friday morning

BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. – Jose Montanez began crying on the stand as he described the events of Father's Day nearly three years ago. An argument over a near-collision escalated into sudden gunfire, according to his testimony. 

According to Montanez, there was no warning from off-duty deputy Yousef Hafza nor did he identify himself as a law enforcement officer when he exited his vehicle and began shooting at he and his brother-in-law, reports News 6 partner Florida Today.

“Nah, he didn’t give us no chance to do anything,” Montanez said, beginning to sob. “The whole time I’m behind the vehicle, he’s shooting. After I seen my brother-in-law on the floor, I put my hands up.” 

The traffic dispute ended with Montanez's friend and brother-in-law, Clarence Howard,  dead on St. John's Heritage Parkway of a gunshot wound from Hafza's service weapon.

Arguments began Friday in a stand your ground hearing for Hafza, the former Brevard County Sheriff’s Office deputy who is accused of shooting and killing the unarmed Howard on Father's Day of 2016.

Hafza was charged with second-degree murder and attempted murder after a Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation. 

He and his attorneys filed a motion to have the charges dismissed based on Florida’s “stand your ground” law. Under the law, a person does not have a duty to retreat if faced with an imminent threat.

Hafza's defense team will argue next that on June 19, 2016, he was faced with such a threat when he shot at the two men in Palm Bay. 

Investigative reports state Hafza said he was being followed in a car by Howard and driver Montanez, 30, of Palm Bay,  on St. John's Heritage Parkway in Palm Bay. The men stopped their vehicles and exchanged words, then Hafza fired at them before driving away, according to arrest documents. 

Hafza left the scene before calling 911 to report the shooting, telling emergency radio dispatchers the men were attempting to get into his vehicle and were at his door. Hafza claimed self-defense in the shooting.

The altercation began when Montanez and Howard were pulling out onto Emerson Drive and a car nearly turned lanes and collided with them, according to Montanez.

The two men decided to follow the car and say something to the driver. 

Montanez told the court that Hafza remained a block ahead of them until they reached Emerson and St. John’s Heritage Parkway where Hafza stopped and yelled to them from his vehicle.

After a brief exchange of words and insults, Hafza rolled up his window and got out of his car, gun drawn, Montanez said. He then began firing at the two men. 

Hafza's defense attorneys Friday argued that the two men attempted to run the deputy and former Palm Bay police officer off the road. They claimed Montanez was passing vehicles and speeding aggressively on Emerson Road to catch up to him. 

Montanez disputed those claims, saying that he was always about a block behind him and was never seeking a physical altercation.

rime scene investigators from BCSO also testified, telling the court that the distance between Howard’s blood stains and Hafza’s shell casings was around 48 feet.

Ryan Bliss, a special agent with FDLE, investigated the case. During an interview, Bliss asked Hafza if he saw the two men with guns or weapons, to which Hafza replied that he didn’t. 

When cross-examined by the defense, Bliss said that the FDLE investigation did not take into account if the shell casings were ejected backward from Hafza's weapon in a way that would make the distance between him and the two alleged victims seem greater than it was. 

The hearing will be continued at a later date to be scheduled by the court.