Fla. County Must Face Suit Over Death by Cop

     FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (CN) – Miami-Dade County must face claims stemming from the death of a Hispanic man who was fatally shot by a police officer, a federal judge ruled last week.
     Sixteen police officers went to Michael Santana’s home in Miami Lakes, Fla. in March 2012 to execute a search warrant and possibly arrest Santana. The officers, who belonged to a special response team, broke down the door and entered the house without knocking or announcing their presence, in violation of county police procedures, according to a federal complaint Santana’s father filed last year.
     The father said the officers entered with their weapons drawn and ready to fire. After a brief confrontation in the hallway, Officer German Alech, the first one to enter the house, shot Santana three times as he was surrendering, the lawsuit claimed.
     Santana died as a result of the gunshot wounds, which occurred “almost immediately” after the police broke in, according to the complaint.
     A South Florida federal judge last year refused to dismiss the father’s wrongful death claim against the county, finding his allegations sufficient at that stage.
     After Santana’s father amended the complaint, adding a new claim, the county again sought to dismiss the wrongful death and negligence claims stemming from Santana’s death.
     U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom noted last week that the court had no reason to dismiss the amended wrongful death claim, which was identical to the one it previously upheld.
     The father’s allegations are sufficient at this stage to support claims that Alech acted in bad faith or with disregard for Santana’s life, Bloom found.
     Even though the complaint included no details about the brief confrontation that preceded the shooting, it alleged that Santana was shot while surrendering, which is enough to support a wrongful death claim based on a battery claim against the officer, according to the April 27 the order.
     While there is no cause of action under Florida law for negligent use of excessive force, the state allows claims for negligence in using a firearm, which can be pursued separately against a police officer who allegedly used excessive force, the ruling adds.
     Moreover, Santana’s father alleged that the county was liable for the officers’ failure to secure the perimeter and their negligence in breaking into the home, which allegedly caused Santana’s fatal injuries, Bloom said.
     The county must respond to the allegations by Friday, May 8.
     Assistant County Attorney Michael Valdes said the county cannot comment on the pending litigation.
     Attorneys for Santana did not respond to a request for comment.

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