In 2013, Jermaine McBean, a 33-year-old information technology worker, was walking home while wearing earbuds and carrying an unloaded air rifle. Someone thought the gun was real and called the cops. Broward Sheriff’s Dep. Peter Peraza then killed McBean.
Peraza later claimed he was forced to shoot the 33-year-old in self-defense. He cited Florida’s controversial and demonstrably racist Stand Your Ground law. That was a novel and largely unheard-of use of the statute.
While civil-rights advocates worried Peraza’s defense set a concerning precedent, the Florida Supreme Court today unanimously affirmed that on-duty cops can claim they are “standing their ground” when killing citizens.
In layman’s terms, the court ruled that, because the law gives stand-your-ground rights to all “persons” in Florida without making any distinctions for their jobs, cops can use the law to defend themselves while on duty.
Peraza now gets to claim he was standing his ground in a case many civil-rights advocates say was a travesty from the start. Peraza says he shouted at McBean to get him to drop his air file. The cop says the 33-year-old, who was at the time also undergoing a mental-health crisis, did not comply. But McBean’s lifeless body was photographed wearing earbuds: His family, to this day, wonders if he was simply listening to music and not able to hear the cop.
“Put simply, a law enforcement officer is a ‘person’ whether on duty or off, and irrespective of whether the officer is making an arrest,” the court ruled. The judges also stated that Peraza was “immune from criminal prosecution.”
The ruling is a victory for the National Rifle Association and Florida’s top NRA lobbyist, Marion Hammer, who wrote the law in 2005. It is also a win for Florida cops and police unions, who already benefit from significant legal protections when they kill people while on duty.
Civil-rights advocates and public-health experts have begged the state for years to repeal Stand Your Ground. The law, which lets anyone who fears for their life shoot to kill in self-defense, was the first of its kind in America. Importantly, a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association tied the law to a “sharp, sustained” increase in homicides across the state. Murders were actually decreasing before Florida passed it.