Miami, FL – The Florida Supreme Court had determined that law enforcement officers throughout the state have a right to invoke the Stand Your Ground law in cases where they use deadly force to defend themselves from imminent death or great bodily harm.
Stand Your Ground grants immunity from prosecution to “any person” who acts in self-defense, and law enforcement officers are people, Justice Alan Lawson wrote, according to WTVT.
“Simply put, a law enforcement officer is a ‘person’ whether on duty or off, and irrespective of whether the officer is making an arrest,” Lawson wrote, according to the Associated Press.
“In common understanding, ‘person’ refers to a ‘human being,’ which is not occupation-specific and plainly includes human beings serving as law enforcement officers,” he added.
"If the legislature intended to exclude police officers from the Stand Your Ground statute, why didn't they say so?” Justice Jorge LaBarga asked rhetorically, according to WTVT. “They certainly had ample opportunity.”
"How do you get around [the fact] that a law enforcement officer is a person?” Justice Barbara Pariente agreed. “And it didn't say, 'a citizen.' It said, 'a person.”
The Florida Supreme Court issued its unanimous 7-0 decision on Thursday, the Associated Press reported.
The ruling will likely bring an end to the manslaughter proceedings filed against 40-year-old Broward Sheriff’s Deputy Peter Peraza, who fatally shot 33-year-old Jermaine McBean on July 31, 2013, after McBean allegedly ignored commands to stop and pointed a rifle at officers, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reported.
McBean’s weapon was later found to be an air rifle that was nearly indistinguishable from an actual firearm.
The other deputies at the scene did not open fire during the encounter, leading to accusations that the shooting was unjustified.
“A grand jury heard the evidence, found that it was not a justified shooting, and chose to indict Deputy Peraza on a manslaughter charge,” Broward State Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Paula McMahon told the South Florida Sun Sentinel.
“Stand Your Ground is a bad law and it doesn’t allow a trial jury to hear the evidence and make a decision,” McMahon added.
Deputy Peraza’s attorney, Eric Schwartzreich, said that the deputy was in fear for his life and the lives of those around him when he shot the gun-wielding suspect.
"Deputy Peraza was doing his job and was facing 30 years,” Schwartzreich told WTVT. “Why should he not be able to use all the statutes available, in particular when the Florida legislature said 'any person?'"
Schwartzreich hailed the “groundbreaking ruling,” and said it was a step in the right direction to help protect law enforcement officers as they carry out their duties every day, the Associated Press reported.
“Every law enforcement officer in the state of Florida can go to work and do their job and not worry about being second-guessed,” he said.
But attorney David Schoen, who represents McBean’s family, said the ruling was a “slap in the face.”
“This is a grave injustice that sends exactly the wrong message to the country at exactly the wrong time,” Schoen told the Associated Press in an email.
McBean’s family argued that he had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2010, and that he was unable to hear the officers’ commands to drop the weapon because he was wearing earbuds at the time of the encounter.
Schoen has also alleged that McBean never pointed the weapon at officers.
“The entire premise of the decision is based on a lie that is absolutely and indisputably a lie,” Schoen told the South Florida Sun Sentinel. “Both of the other deputies on the scene gave sworn videotaped testimony and neither of them ever has said that Jermaine pointed the air rifle at Peraza…The forensic evidence proves 100% Jermaine could not have been pointing the air rifle at Peraza.”
A wrongful death lawsuit is still pending.
“Deputy Peraza should never have been charged," Schwartzreich argued. "He has every right to assert the same laws that anyone gets to assert.”
“He regrets that there was a loss of life. But there’s no benefit of hindsight when you’re a law enforcement officer," he added. "If he had to take the same action, he would do it again.”