Immunity Denied as to Fatal Florida Police Stop
OCALA, Fla. (CN) - A Florida sheriff and two deputies must face claims over the death of a young man who was put in handcuffs and Tasered repeatedly after police shot him in the stomach.
Vincent Salvato sued Marion County Sheriff Chris Blair and two deputy sheriffs for the death of his 21-year-old unarmed son, Joshua Salvato, on July 6, 2012.
U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hodges, who viewed a video recording of the encounter from a squad-car camera, noted in the Monday ruling that the facts are undisputed.
Deputies Lauren Miley and Norman Brown had stopped Salvato on the street at about 10:45 p.m., while responding to a call about a shirtless man screaming at cars.
Salvato struggled as the officers tried to handcuff him, and the trio then exchanged blows, some with closed fists. Both deputies were knocked backward, and Miley stood up and fired one shot at the young man, striking his abdomen.
Though Miley testified that she thought Brown had been injured and could not assist her, and that Salvato was squaring up into a boxer's stance and starting to charge her again, Judge Hodges said "the video from the dashboard camera does not support this portion of her testimony."
"The dashboard camera video clearly shows Joshua retreating backwards," the 43-page ruling states. "He then steps out of viewing range (all that is viewable is his foot). It is simply not clear whether Joshua was retreating in an attempt to escape, or he had stopped retreating and was preparing to attack the deputies again. What is clear, however, is that eleven seconds elapsed from the time Joshua got up from the ground when the deputies were attempting to handcuff him, and Deputy Miley shot him."
As Salvato stood bleeding, Brown got to his feet and pointed his gun at the man. He then holstered his weapon, pulled out his Taser and fired, knocking Salvato to the ground.
"Deputy Brown testified that he discharged his taser the first time to prevent Joshua from attacking Deputy Miley," Hodges wrote. "However, at this point in time, Deputy Brown's patrol car was directly between Joshua and Deputy Miley, so it was not possible for Joshua to reach Deputy Miley."
Brown then used his Tasered on Salvato several more times to make him roll over onto his stomach so that Miley could handcuff him.
"After Joshua had been shot, and was handcuffed and lying on his stomach, Deputy Brown continued to discharge his taser onto Joshua several additional times," the ruling states. "The records from Deputy Brown's taser show that it was discharged onto Joshua 12 times or 'cycles.' The parties disagree as to how many of the discharges occurred after Joshua was handcuffed, however, there is no dispute that he was tasered at least three more times after he was handcuffed."
Though Brown claimed that he was not initially aware that Salvato had been shot, Hodges noted that Brown noticed the gunshot wound after his first use of the Taser sent Salvato to the gorund on his back.
Miley made no attempt to stop Brown from using the Taser. Neither deputy searched Salvato to see if he had a weapon, the purported reason for why they continued Tasering him. Neither deputy attempted to give Salvato first aid, either.
Internal bleeding from the gunshot killed Salvato within minutes before paramedics arrived.
Salvato's father is alleging excessive force and other civil rights violations, as well as a failure by the sheriff to discipline or properly train the deputies.
Judge Hodges granted the deputies summary judgment as to their failure to provide medical care, finding that "emergency medical assistance arrived within six minutes; and the court is at a loss to see how they could have arrived any quicker."
The officers must face excessive-force claims, however.
"At the moment he was shot, a reasonable jury could find that he was fleeing," Hodges wrote. "Moreover, neither Deputy attempted to warn him prior to using deadly force. It was clearly established at the time Joshua was shot that law enforcement officers could not use deadly force on a suspect under these circumstances."
As for the claims against Sheriff Blair, the judge said that Salvato's father may have a case for municipal liability but that all other portions of that Section 1983 claim must be dismissed.
All three defendants must face wrongful-death claims.