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‘Stand your ground’ hearing concludes for former Brevard deputy charged with murder

Yousef Hafza accused of killing man during a road rage incident

PALM BAY, Fla. – A former Brevard County sheriff’s deputy testified to try to convince a judge he was defending himself under Florida’s “stand your ground” law Monday.

Prosecutors claim Yousef Hafza shot and killed Clarence Mahogany Howard in a road rage incident on Father’s Day in 2016. Hafza is charged with second-degree murder in Howard’s death but argues his charges should be dropped.

“I didn’t do anything to him to anticipate what he would do to me,” Hafza said in court Monday.

Arguments in Yousef Hafza’s case started in March. Hafza said he was in fear for his life when he shot and killed the 25-year-old Palm Bay man while off-duty.

Hafza also faces a charge of attempted second-degree murder in the shooting of the driver, Howard’s brother-in-law Jose Montanez, who investigators said took cover as Hafza fired his gun during the confrontation. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges, claiming he feared for his life.

According to the state’s “stand your ground” law, a person can use deadly force in self-defense if he or she is in imminent threat of death or bodily harm.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement launched an investigation after the June 19, 2016 shooting. FDLE investigators said Hafza was traveling on Emerson Drive in Palm Bay and told police that he was being followed by Howard and the driver in another car. Dispatch recordings show Hafza told 911 operators Montanez and Howard were chasing him.

[RELATED: FDLE releases interview between agents, Brevard sheriff’s deputy charged with murder]

Investigators said Howard stopped his vehicle along the St. Johns Heritage Parkway in Palm Bay, where Hafza exchanged words with the men and then fired at them with his Brevard County-issued .40-caliber handgun, reports show.

“I can still remember seeing his dreads bouncing,” Hafza testified. “He was running straight at me and throwing up his hands like, ‘What’s up, what’s up? You want this?’”

Hafza said he saw Howard reaching for something at his waist. Investigators said Howard was not armed.

Investigators determined that Hafza drove away from the scene and never identified himself as a deputy or called 911 to report the incident before shooting. Shell casings were found about 50 feet from where Howard collapsed after being shot under the right arm, investigators reported.

Howard was paralyzed instantly and later died.

Hafza was suspending without pay after the incident, pending an administrative review.

The case stirred protests in Palm Bay and Melbourne with community leaders, family members and residents holding rallies to bring attention to the case. Weeks following the shooting, Hafza was arrested.

Hafza later resigned from the agency.

Howard's family said during court Monday that it's been hard listening to Hafza's side of the story.

"An innocent life was taken," Jessica Montanez said.

Montanez was Howard’s fiancée and is Jose Montanez’s sister.

“For me, it’s been hard. I have three of his children. Looking at them makes me miss him more,” she said.

The hearing concluded Monday without a decision from the judge. It’s expected to be delivered in writing at a later date.

If the judge sides with the defense, Hafza’s charges will be dropped.