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Fla. Deputies Must Face ‘Human Shield’s’ Claims

(CN) - A Florida sheriff's department must face a lawsuit filed by a woman shot five times by police during a stand-off in which she was used as a human shield, a federal judge ruled.

In a complaint filed in the Pensacola, Fla. Federal Court, Jacqueline Rosenbloom says she was at home with her daughter and grandson on October 29, 2010, when her ex-boyfriend, Phillip Monier, "pushed his way into her house."

Rosenbloom says she locked both herself and her daughter in her bedroom, and called 911. "When the 911 operator asked her if it was a 'home invasion,' Plaintiff agreed," the complaint says. "She reported that she had suffered bruising from having been grabbed and that her daughter had been shoved as well."

Several minutes into the 911 call, the operator heard screaming and the sound of the door being broken down. "During this chaos, Plaintiff acknowledged that Monier had a gun, and pleaded with him to escort her out and to let her go," the complaint says.

When deputies with the Escambia County Sheriff's Department arrived, they encountered the plaintiff's daughter, who told them Monier had a gun and was holding his mother hostage.

"The deputies entered Plaintiff's bedroom, and began screaming. ... Defendant Jeremy Cassady should to Monier, "[d]on't make me kill you," followed by "I'll blow your goddamn brains out," and the other deputies also began screaming and yelling at the same time."

At this point, Rosenbloom says, another officer, Deputy Hendershott yelled for everyone to shut up, and spoke calmly to Monier, trying to convince him the situation could be resolved peacefully.

Despite these assurances, when Hendershott left the room, the other deputies again began advancing on Monier, who specifically told deputies he did not want to hurt anyone, the plaintiff says.

"He never threatened to shoot Plaintiff or any of the deputies, he did not remove his gun from his waistband, and he never pointed a gun at Plaintiff or any of the deputies," the complaint says.

Nevertheless, "[w]hile Monier held Plaintiff in front of him, Defendant Cassady yelled to the other deputies that 'they were going to need to take a headshot.' ... Approximately twenty minutes after Plaintiff called 911, Defendant Cassady fired a shot at Monier's head ... but missed and struck Plaintiff's neck instead," the complaint says.

After Cassady fired at least three more shots, Monier removed his gun from his waistband and returned fire, Rosenbloom says, adding that through the entire incident, her ex-boyfriend was "[wearing] her like a sweater" to protect himself.

Despite this, Deputy Cassady and two of his colleagues, defendant deputies Sam Parker and Melony Peterson, continued to fire, even after Monier retreated into a bathroom with the plaintiff and was out of their direct line of sight.

As the ordeal continued, Rosenbloom says, she repeatedly screamed, "I'm shot! I'm shot!" and "Please stop shooting" and "You are killing me," to no avail.

At one point, she says, she heard one deputy yell, "[T]he hell with her, what about us?"

When all was said and done, "Plaintiff was struck by five bullets fired by Defendant Deputies. ... Plaintiff's injuries included multiple gunshot wounds, including one gunshot wound to the neck, three gunshot wounds to her right leg (with one bullet fracturing her pelvis and vaginal area), and a gunshot wound to her knee, which shattered the entire knee beyond repair," the complaint says.

Monier was not struck, and he eventually surrendered after speaking with a hostage negotiator.

Rosenbloom sued the Sheriff's department and the deputies, claiming her injuries were the result of the defendants' negligence, a violation of Florida law, and a violation of her rights under the 4th and 14th Amendments.

The defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that the individual deputies have qualified immunity from prosecution; that the unintended shooting of a hostage is not a violation of their constitutional rights, and that they did not act maliciously or with conscious or reckless disregard for her safety.

On review, U.S. District Judge Richard Smoak found the deputies' arguments unconvincing.

"It is now undisputed that Plaintiff was not merely near Monier when Defendant Deputies began shooting, and that Defendant Deputies did not merely shoot toward Plaintiff's location. Deputy Cassidy described Monier as "wearing Plaintiff like a sweater," and that although he knew he may shoot Plaintiff, he was trying to shoot her in a manner that would not kill her," Judge Smoak wrote. "Additionally, Deputy Cassady testified that he was approximately 12 to 15 feet away, that his target was approximately 4 inches wide, that both Monier and Plaintiff were moving unpredictably and that he hoped to hit Monier, not Plaintiff. If a hostage is the intended object of the shooting, whether the hostage is actually shot or not, the hostage has been seized for purposes of the Fourth Amendment.

"Considering the evidence in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff, there are facts on the record that a reasonable jury could find that the Defendant Deputies intended to shoot through Plaintiff in order to restrain Monier. Therefore, Plaintiff was the intended object of the shooting."

But Smoak noted that the existence of a 4th Amendment seizure is not enough for ... liability. ... The seizure must also be unreasonable.

"There is evidence on the record that support a finding that Monier did not pose an immediate threat to the officers or to Plaintiff when Defendant Cassady began shooting at Monier and Plaintiff," the judge wrote. "Monier never removed his gun, he did not threaten the officers or plaintiff, and he was not attempting to escape. Moreover, Plaintiff, who was also seized, did not pose an immediate threat to the officers or to others. Accordingly, a reasonable trier of fact could find that the use of deadly force under these circumstances was unreasonable."

As to Rosenbloom's state law claims, Smoak found it undisputed that upon arriving to the room, Defendant Cassady shouted to Monier, '[d]on't make me kill you,' followed by 'I'll blow your goddamn brains out.'

"Additionally, the Defendant Deputies fired shots indiscriminately at Plaintiff and Monier, even before Monier began shooting and even after both Plaintiff and Monier were concealed behind a wall. Although Defendant Deputies testified they did not want to shoot Plaintiff in a manner that would kill her, they did testify they knew they could injury her. Lastly, Plaintiff testified she heard an officer yell 'the hell with her,'" he continued. "All of this evidence supports a finding that ... the Defendant Deputies were acting in a manner that exhibited a wanton and willful disregard of the human rights and safety of Plaintiff."

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