A judge dismissed charges against a Florida sheriff’s deputy who shot a 33-year-old black man carrying an unloaded air rifle in Broward County in 2013, saying the law enforcement officer was protected under Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” self-defense law.
Peter Peraza, 37, testified during a hearing that Jermaine McBean initially refused commands from him and other deputies to drop the authentic-looking weapon and then turned and pointed it toward the deputies, the Associated Press reported. Peraza fired three shots, killing McBean. The deputy was the first Florida law enforcement officer criminally charged for an on-duty killing in more than three decades.
Peraza had faced a potential 30-year prison sentence.
Prosecutors told the AP that they intend to appeal Circuit Judge Michael Usan’s dismissal.
In July 2013, worried 911 callers reported seeing McBean carrying what appeared to be a real rifle down a busy street, The Washington Post reported. The gun was in fact an air rifle. After the killing, McBean’s family contended he was listening to music with earbuds and likely could not hear police commands to put down the gun.
Police initially said McBean was not wearing headphones at the time of the shooting but that they found a pair of earbuds in his pocket after he was taken to the hospital. But a widely shared photo of McBean moments after the shooting shows what appear to be earbud headphones in his ears as he lay on the ground after being shot.
Activists with Black Lives Matter in Broward County said they were incensed with the judge’s decision.
“We’re really confused on how any judge can see things that way,” said Jesse Cosme, a spokesman for the Black Lives Matter Alliance of Broward County. “Every other eyewitness testimony that wasn’t a cop is ignored in this decision to come to the conclusion that this officer was standing his ground. Now, standing your ground becomes symbolic for the perpetuation of fear.”
In a statement emailed to The Washington Post, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said his thoughts were with McBean’s family.
“A life was lost, and this is a tragedy no matter how you look at it. As Sheriff, I was elected to enforce laws and keep our citizens safe. I am not a lawyer. I am not a judge and I don’t make legal decisions. I pray for God to comfort all those affected and for our community to begin to heal and find peace.”
Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, which was spotlighted following the 2012 slaying of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, says people have no duty to retreat if they believe someone is trying to kill or seriously harm them. It was used in the successful defense of George Zimmerman, who killed Martin.
A Humble Soul: Additional information on the McBean matter can be found here.