In a landmark decision, the Florida Supreme Court ruled Thursday police officers can invoke the "stand your ground" law in some cases where deadly force is used.
The unanimous 7-0 ruling came during the case of Broward County sheriff's deputy Peter Peraza, who was charged with manslaughter for killing 33-year-old Black man Jermaine McBean in 2013, The Associated Press reports.
Peraza faced up to 30 years in prison for manslaughter, if convicted.
“Simply put, a law enforcement officer is a ‘person’ whether on duty or off, and irrespective of whether the officer is making an arrest,” Justice Alan Lawson wrote for the court.
“In common understanding, ‘person’ refers to a ‘human being,’ which is not occupation-specific and plainly includes human beings serving as law enforcement officers,” he added.
During the fatal police encounter, Peraza stated he and other officers on the scene at McBean's apartment ordered him to put down his rifle.
Neighbors called authorities claiming the man was acting erratically and endangering the lives of others with the gun, CBS News reports.
Police records state he did not listen to commands. However, McBean's attorneys said he was wearing earbuds and listening to music at the time. He allegedly pointed the gun near children in a swimming pool. Peraza fired on the man three times, who was later discovered holding an air rifle, killing him.
Peraza testified he feared for his life and had no choice but to fire on the man. McBean's family members disclosed he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and suffered a mental breakdown in years past.
According to The New York Times, eyewitnesses said McBean never pointed his air rifle at officers, and two of the police officers on the scene never fired at McBean.
Attorneys for Peraza attempted to justify the shooting under the "stand your ground" law, but the state argued police were already protected in cases such as these. Now, that has changed.
“Stand your ground is a bad law, and it doesn’t allow a trial jury to hear the evidence and make a decision,” the Broward County State Attorney’s Office statement to the AP said.
David I. Schoen, the attorney representing McBean's family, said police might not be held accountable when police shootings like this occur.
“Every unscrupulous law enforcement officer in Florida who kills a civilian now in suspicious circumstances will say he feared for his life, and even with eyewitnesses saying otherwise, he walks and can’t be arrested or charged or brought to trial after this decision,” Schoen said after the ruling. “It’s an injustice, it really is.”
This ruling may bypass jury trials in cases where deadly force was used, ignoring evidence and testimonies.
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