Police officers accused of excessive force in Florida are trying to claw their way behind the state’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ law.
Intended to protect civilians from accusations of force when using a firearm to defend their lives, ‘Stand Your Ground’ was intended to let ordinary people defend themselves without fear of arrest or incarceration.
But, as the New York Times reported Monday, bad apples in law enforcement are trying to expand the legislation to apply to them.
The law’s been brought up in brutal, senseless cases involving police misconduct. A 63-year old man stomped, two shootings, and the beating of a wheelchair-bound man.
In some cases, writes the Times, judges have assented to law enforcement requests for protection.
“The law says it applies to ‘any person,’” said attorney Eric Schwartzreic, who represented a Broward County deputy who killed a computer engineer and successfully argued his innocence behind ‘Stand Your Ground’ in 2013. “Law enforcement is any person. Why would there be a law that applies to one person in the criminal justice system and not another?”
Florida’s take on self-defense, reports the Times, has been controversial from the get-go. Ever since ‘Stand Your Ground’ was passed in 2005, prosecutors have been opposed to its implementation.
Unlike in the past, the law lets individuals derelict their duty to retreat from dangerous situations “if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary” to prevent death or injury.
The legislation became especially well-known – and even more controversial – following the death of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin in Sanford, FL. A local neighborhood watchman, George Zimmerman, shot the boy following a confrontation and alleged scuffle.
While two dozen other states have laws similar to Stand Your Ground, claims the Times, Florida is the only state in which police officers have sought its protection. State Sen. Dennis K. Baxley, who sponsored the Florida bill, admitted even he was surprised to hear law enforcement had invoked it to defend themselves against allegations of misconduct and excessive force.
Some civil rights experts, interviewed by the Times¸ say letting police hid behind Stand Your Ground stretches its intent – and gives brutal officers another wall to hide behind.
“A police officer has full immunity under the law if he uses deadly force appropriately,” said attorney David I. Schoen, who represented the family of a police shooting victim. “You can’t also give him Stand Your Ground.”
Last week, the Times writes, Stand Your Ground was again broached as a possible defense for former Palm Beach Gardens police officer Nouman K. Raja.
Raja, driving an unmarked car and wearing plainclothes, approached 31-year old musician Corey Jones as he waited for roadside assistance in a broken-down vehicle.
Jones, say his lawyers, had recently bought a gun to safeguard cash he carried home from late-night gigs. While officer Raja says the musician pointed his firearm toward him, prosecutors say the lawman fired on Jones as he fled – six bullets in total, half of which hit the running man.
“I think it’s very sad that police officers are taking advantage of that law, especially when they are in the wrong,” said Jones’ father, Clinton Jones, Sr. “I think it’s a disgrace to the police department.”