Deputy wins ‘stand your ground’ ap­peal

Con­flict­ing rul­ings on law of­fi­cers mean state jus­tices will tackle is­sue

Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition - - FRONT PAGE - By Rafael Olmeda | Staff writer

Broward Sher­iff’s Deputy Peter Per­aza can­not be pros­e­cuted for the July 2013 shoot­ing death of Jer­maine McBean in Oak­land Park, an ap­peals court af­firmed Wed­nes­day.

The rul­ing from the 4th District Court of Ap­peal de­ter­mines that po­lice of­fi­cers are en­ti­tled to same im­mu­nity un­der the state’s “stand your ground” law as pri­vate cit­i­zens, de­spite a rul­ing from another ap­peals court that reached the op­po­site con­clu­sion.

The le­gal con­flict will have to be re­solved by the Florida Supreme Court, and Per­aza’s lawyer said he’s an­tic­i­pat­ing a show­down in Tal­la­has­see.

Broward State At­tor­ney’s Of­fice spokesman Ron Ishoy agreed, say­ing the in­con­sis­tency be­tween the cur­rent and for­mer ap­peals court de­ci­sions must be set­tled by the Florida Supreme Court.

Per­aza had been charged with man­slaugh­ter in the July 31, 2013, shoot­ing of McBean, 33, a com­puter en­gi­neer who was walk­ing home in his Oak­land Park neigh­bor­hood after hav­ing just pur­chased a re­al­is­ti­clook­ing air ri­fle at a nearby pawn shop. Per­aza was one of sev­eral deputies who re­sponded to re­ports of an armed man walk­ing through the neigh­bor­hood, and the only one to open fire when McBean failed to fol­low or­ders to put the weapon down.

Per­aza tes­ti­fied that he only pulled the trig­ger when McBean ap­peared to be­gin rais­ing the weapon as if to fire it. Fam­ily mem­bers said McBean likely did not hear the deputies’ or­ders be­cause he was lis­ten­ing to mu­sic through ear­buds.

The shoot­ing did not at­tract the same level of na­tional at­ten­tion as other in­ci­dents that gave rise to the “Black Lives Mat­ter” move­ment, but it did re­sult in Per­aza’s in­dict­ment on the man­slaugh­ter charge.

Be­fore that, no on-duty of­fi­cer had been charged in a homi­cide case in Broward County in 35 years.

Lo­cally, Black Lives Mat­ter ac­tivists ral­lied around McBean’s fam­ily, call­ing the shoot­ing an un­jus­ti­fied use of lethal force.

McBean fam­ily lawyer David Schoen called Wed­nes­day’s rul­ing a trav­esty, adding his be­lief that Broward Cir­cuit Judge Michael Usan was wrong on the facts and the law when he orig­i­nally dis­missed the case.

“Per­aza would be con­victed on the ev­i­dence,” Schoen said. “The McBean fam­ily is heart­bro­ken. I can’t say this it’s un­ex­pected. They saw what hap­pened with the orig­i­nal de­ci­sion and they lost all faith in the jus­tice sys­tem.”

Schoen ex­pressed hope that the Supreme Court would let a jury de­cide whether the shoot­ing of McBean was jus­ti­fied.

“There are strong feel­ings on both sides of this — mem­bers of our community and law en­force­ment, the men and women who don the uni­form,” said de­fense lawyer Eric Schwartzre­ich, who rep­re­sents Per­aza on be­half of the Broward County Po­lice Benev­o­lent As­so­ci­a­tion.

“At the end of the day, a law en­force­ment of­fi­cer needs to be able to do his job,” he said. “He’s en­ti­tled to use the ‘stand your ground’ de­fense just like any­one else in our crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem. That’s what this case is about.”

Five years ago in South­west Florida, the Sec­ond District Court of Ap­peal ruled that Haines City Po­lice Of­fi­cer Juan Caa­mano was not en­ti­tled to the stand your ground law’s pro­tec­tion from pros­e­cu­tion be­cause other laws that deal specif­i­cally with the con­duct of on-duty law en­force­ment of­fi­cers while mak­ing ar­rests should take prece­dence.

The Broward State At­tor­ney’s Of­fice failed to con­vince Usan to ap­ply the Caa­mano rul­ing to the Per­aza case in 2016. Usan de­cided that stand your ground should ap­ply to law en­force­ment of­fi­cers as well as civil­ians.

At­tor­neys ar­gued their po­si­tions in front of the 4th District Court of Ap­peal in June.

Wed­nes­day’s rul­ing in Per­aza’s fa­vor ac­knowl­edged the con­flict with the Sec­ond District’s 2012 de­ci­sion and asked the Supreme Court to set­tle the ques­tion of whether an on-duty of­fi­cer mak­ing an ar­rest is en­ti­tled to im­mu­nity un­der the stand your ground law.

Per­aza has been work­ing for the Broward Sher­iff ’s Of­fice in an ad­min­is­tra­tive role dur­ing the ap­peals process. Schwartzre­ich said he will be ask­ing to get back to his pre­vi­ous as­sign­ment — on pa­trol and in uni­form — now that the ap­peals court has ruled.

But, Schwartzre­ich said, the case has not reached its con­clu­sion.

“We want this night­mare to be over for Deputy Per­aza,” he said. “It’s far from over, but I think we’re go­ing to pre­vail.”


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