TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CN) – Law enforcement officers using deadly force are shielded under the same self-defense law as the general public, Florida’s Supreme Court ruled Thursday.
After a grand jury indicted Deputy Peter Peraza of the Broward County Sheriff’s Office for shooting and killing a black man holding an air rifle, Peraza argued that he fired in self-defense and was immune under the Stand Your Ground law.
Stand Your Ground blocks criminal lawsuits if the person who used deadly force did so in self-defense.
“This is a groundbreaking case because it’s the first case in the state of Florida where a deputy successfully used the Stand Your Ground law in defense of a manslaughter allegation… It’s an important ruling for the safety of our community,” Peraza’s attorney, Eric Schwartzreich, said in a phone interview.
But the state attorney’s office disagreed with the ruling.
“Stand Your Ground is a bad law and it doesn’t allow a trial jury to hear the evidence and make a decision,” state attorney’s office spokeswoman Paula McMahon said in an email. “A grand jury heard the evidence, found that it was not a justified shooting, and chose to indict Deputy Peraza on a manslaughter charge.”
The underlying episode unfolded in July 2013 when Jermaine McBean bought an air rifle and walked out of a pawn shop with it uncovered.
A witness called the police. When officers arrived, they told McBean to drop his rifle. He refused.
According to the summary of the episode in the Supreme Court ruling, McBean raised the rifle over his head, turned toward the deputies and took aim. Peraza fired his gun three times, shooting and killing McBean.
Peraza asked for immunity from the ensuing manslaughter charges under the Stand Your Ground law.
The state argued that law enforcement officers already have a defense, which is “justifiable force when making a lawful arrest.”
“The Broward State Attorney’s Office has been opposed to the Stand Your Ground law since it was enacted,” McMahon said. “While there was testimony from Deputy Peraza that he was in fear for his life, there was also witness testimony, as the Florida Supreme Court noted in its opinion, that ‘McBean did not point the weapon at the deputies.’”
But Florida’s Supreme Court said Stand Your Ground applies to any person acting in self-defense, including police officers.
“Because these statutes plainly and unambiguously afford Stand Your Ground immunity to any ‘person’ who acts in self-defense, there should be no reason for further analysis,” Justice Alan Lawson wrote for the court in an 11-page opinion. “Put simply, a law enforcement officer is a ‘person’ whether on duty or off, and irrespective of whether the officer is making an arrest.”
“Deputy Paraza should have never been arrested, or indicted,” Schwartzreich said. “It was a wrongful arrest. It kept me up every night.”
The decision upholds a ruling out of the state’s Fourth District Court of Appeals.
At least 22 states have similar Stand Your Ground laws on the books.