VIERA, Fla. – Five years after a former Brevard County sheriff’s deputy killed an unarmed Palm Bay man, Yousef Hafza entered a courtroom Tuesday to stand trial for murder.
On June 19, 2016, when Hafza was off-duty, he said he shot Clarence Howard as the 25-year-old ran toward him and threatened him.
Hafza said he felt Howard and his brother-in-law, Jose Montanez, were chasing him in their car on Emerson Drive.
Montanez testified Tuesday that he started following Hafza’s car when the former deputy almost hit them. He told the jury Hafza never identified himself as a law enforcement officer and if he did, he would have stopped following him.
Hafza is also charged with attempted second-degree murder on Montanez. The man testified that when Hafza started shooting, he ducked behind his car.
Judge Jeff Mahl ruled last year that Hafza did not act in self-defense, so charges were not dismissed following a stand your ground hearing.
The first witness testifying in the trial, Montanez said ultimately there was an exchange of words between both parties when they stopped at the intersection of St. John’s Heritage Parkway.
Montanez said what happened next left him in shock.
“He immediately opened the door and started firing,” he said.
Montanez said Hafza never gave himself or Howard an opportunity to retreat. Previous testimony from Hafza in the stand your ground hearing contradicts Montanez’s testimony. Hafza said in court in 2019 that he told Howard to stop charging at him.
The trial continues Wednesday. If the jury finds Hafza guilty, the former deputy faces up to life in prison.