Two Miami police officers were granted ‘stand your ground’ immunity in a June 14 court decision, after they were sued by two people that they had arrested, according to the Miami New Times.
It was the first time the defense had been used successfully in Florida in a civil lawsuit involving police officers.
Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Norma Lindsey said in her June 14 decision that Miami Police Sergeant Moses Martinez and Miami Police Officer Walter Byars reasonably feared for their safety when they used force against Pedro Brito, and his brother Carlos, who was in a wheelchair.
The incident occurred on June 27, 2010, when both men were arrested by Sergeant Martinez and Officer Byars outside of the Epic Hotel. The officers had been called to the hotel when a group that the men were part of had apparently failed to pay their bar tab.
Both officers said that Pedro Brito punched Sergeant Martinez in the face after the two brothers were approached. Sergeant Martinez said that he punched Pedro Brito back, took him to the ground, and was assisted by Officer Byars with taking him into custody.
The officers said that while they were taking Pedro Brito in custody, his brother Carlos “rode his wheelchair toward the officers”, and that he “lunged forward onto Sergeant Martinez’s back and grabbed his face.”
Carlos is reported to be paralyzed from the waist down, but a security guard witness verified what happened. The security guard, who was not identified, said that Carlos “somehow hurled himself onto Sergeant Martinez’s back.”
The brothers had their own version of events which was determined not to be credible.
The brothers sued in April, 2014. In her decision, Judge Lindsey found that the city of Miami had a right to claim the ‘stand your ground’ defense, and that ‘officers were justified in their use of force.”
She said, “Because the city stands in the shoes of its officers, and the officers are entitled to immunity pursuant to the Stand Your Ground statute, the city is likewise entitled to statutory immunity pursuant to the Stand Your Ground statute as a matter of law.”
The Stand Your Ground defense had been previously used by Deputy Paraza in a criminal case last year after he was charged with manslaughter for fatally shooting Jermaine McBean.
Prosecutors argued that that ‘stand your ground’ doesn’t apply to police officers because they have their own immunity statute.
That argument falls flat on its face, according to attorney Eric Schwartzreich, who is representing Broward Sheriff’s Office Deputy Peter Peraza in a similar incident.
He said, “I’ve argued that if the Legislature did not want Stand Your Ground to apply to law enforcement officers, they would have said so. Police, civilians, anyone, according to that statute, should be allowed to use that statute.”
Do you think that police officers should have fewer rights to stand their ground than citizens do? We’d like to hear from you.