The proceedings relating to the on-duty shooting of Jermaine McBean by Sheriff’s Deputy Peter Peraza took a wild turn when Judge Michael Usan of the Broward Circuit Court summarily dismissed manslaughter charges against the Deputy.
Predictably, prosecutors intend to launch an appeal.
The enormity of the case
Judge Usan made his ruling on the basis that evidence brought forward convinced him Peraza shot McBean in self-defense and that shootings by police officers are covered by the Stand Your Ground Law in Florida.
Obviously, the prosecution does not agree. They may be right or wrong: An appeal could very likely side with Usan and the defense.
However, a summary dismissal of a case centered on a police-involved shooting in modern-day America is unacceptable. Police-involved shooting is a volatile issue in modern-day America. Tension is rising between communities and their protectors—the police; and movements like Black Lives Matter are increasingly making strides.
A controversy of this magnitude should justifiably get a second legal opinion.
Thorough deliberation is the only option available
The controversy is not only about the police-involved shooting. Stand Your Ground law, the primary basis for dismissing the case, is also controversial. The law stipulates that a judge could dismiss homicide charges if enough evidence exists to prove that the defendant used his or her weapon in self-defense.
The law is relatively new. As such, there are not enough instances of its use in case law to confirm how courts should apply the law in all circumstances. Prosecutors are pushing that law enforcement officers cannot use Stand Your Ground. Judge Usan believes they can.
Moving forward and regardless of what the Appeal court thinks, it would help a great deal if the Legislature would revisit the law for clarity sake. It should be abundantly clear if the lawmakers intend that the law cover police officers.
Beyond the legal component of the shooting, there is also the trust component. The public needs to be reassured that all elements of the case are undergoing necessary pedantic scrutiny and that the courts aren’t in a hurry to resolve a case without giving the case deserved attention.
The last time a police officer was indicted for an on-duty shooting in Broward was more than a quarter of a century ago. This is a rare case, and the handling should reflect that. A dismissal of such an indictment should be on unwavering legal justifications.
Why an appeal is justifiable
Deputy Peraza may have acceptably felt threatened, but according the facts of the case, McBean posed no actual threat.
McBean was walking home through an Oakland Park neighborhood with an unloaded air rifle hung on his shoulder. Understandably, concerned individuals placed 911 calls, with the Police responding swiftly.
In the judge’s verdict, he maintained that findings suggest “McBean pointed the weapon at or in the direction of the deputies.” Peraza fearing for “his life and the lives of others” shot McBean.
However, civilian witness accounts do not tally up, as witnesses did not agree with the Deputy’s account that McBean pointed his weapon at the police officers. Also, amongst all the officers on the scene, only Peraza felt sufficiently threatened to shoot in self-defense.
As at the time of the incident, McBean had earbuds on, and there is sufficient reason to believe he did not even hear the officers order him to drop the rifle.
There is a bit of a concern about the judge ruling that McBean’s mental state was relevant to the case. McBean had a number of psychotic episodes in the past that led to him being hospitalized involuntarily. Nonetheless, Peraza could not have known about these episodes as at the time he shot McBean. As such, these episodes could not have had any effect on Peraza’s state of mind.
Furthermore, the judge opined that the availability of records of McBean’s mental problems in the past convinced him that McBean was more likely to have actually pointed his weapon at officers. If this conclusion was warranted would be examined in more detail during a full trial.
Undoubtedly, Judge Usan had compelling reasons to dismiss the case. However, it is also unarguable that sufficient reasons exist that should have made Usan decide to let the case proceed.