(CN) - The 11th Circuit ruled that a Miami cop was justified in repeatedly shooting an armed man suspected of robbery.
The decision reversed a federal judge's ruling to deny immunity to the officer, Jose Gutierrez, because he continued shooting the suspect after he had fallen to the ground. The district court had found Gutierrez acted "maliciously and sadistically."
Gutierrez began to pursue Erlis Jean-Baptiste and another suspect as they were speeding away from the scene of an armed burglary and robbery.
The high-speed chase ended when the suspects' Dodge Neon crashed, but both suspects then fled on foot.
Jean-Baptiste jumped a fence and waited near a shed as Gutierrez followed suit.
"When he turned to face the shed, Officer Gutierrez saw Jean-Baptiste
holding a gun and standing 8 to 10 feet away," the ruling states. "Officer Gutierrez shot continuously 14 bullets, and eight of those bullets struck Jean-Baptiste. Jean-Baptiste suffered six gunshot wounds in his legs and one gunshot wound both in his foot and in his testicles."
Gutierrez told the court that he kept firing because "Jean-Baptiste 'was still standing pointing [his] gun at me' and 'finally went down ... after my last round,'" according to the ruling.
Jean-Baptiste, who is now confined to a wheelchair from his injuries, argued that he never threatened to shoot Gutierrez and "fell to the ground after being struck in the groin by the first or second bullet, after which Officer Gutierrez 'maliciously and sadistically' continued to shoot Jean-Baptiste," according to the ruling.
The circuit court said Jean-Baptiste was "notably" silent about when or whether he lost control of his gun, which officers found with the safety lock disengaged and partially cocked with a magazine containing 12 rounds of ammunition.
After Jean-Baptiste was convicted of burglary, kidnapping, aggravated battery, robbery and carjacking, he sued Gutierrez for excessive force.
"The district court denied Officer Gutierrez's motion for summary judgment on the ground that he acted unreasonably by using deadly force after the need for force had subsided," according to the circuit court.
The appeals court determined that Gutierrez's actions were justified, however, since he "reasonably perceived the situation as an ambush."
"Officer Gutierrez faced more than a possibility of harm," Circuit Judge William Pryor wrote for the court. "Officer Gutierrez was confronted by a suspect of a dangerous crime who was lying in wait and holding a gun. Until Officer Gutierrez verified that Jean-Baptiste was disarmed, Officer Gutierrez had 'no reason to trust that [Jean-Baptiste] would not suddenly attempt to do him harm.'"
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