In many states, if not all, “Stand Your Ground” laws state that you can use lethal force to stop a “forcible felony” from taking place. Robbery, rape, murder, things like that. The idea is that you can’t just protect yourself, but you can protect others as well.
However, in Florida, an interesting case is going to test that standard to some extent. It seems a man fired on police officers because he thought they were kidnapping his niece.
A man accused of opening fire on three Brevard County deputies during a prostitution sting at his home in 2015 will use Florida’s stand your ground law to seek immunity from prosecution.
In a recorded hospital bed interview the night of the shootout, John DeRossett, who 65 at the time, told a police officer he had no idea the men pulling his niece, Mary DeRossett Ellis, from his Cocoa home the night of Aug. 20, 2015, were sheriff’s deputies.
“I didn’t know who they were,” DeRossett said. “It could have been the man in the moon, it could have been anyone. Who knows?”
Under Florida’s stand your ground statute a person is justified in the use of deadly force to prevent “the imminent commission of a forcible felony.” In this case, the defense argues, that felony was a perceived kidnapping.
Of course, one has to be careful in a case like this. After all, if DeRossett gets away with this claim, everyone who shoots at police will claim they thought the police were criminals.
However, there’s one bit of evidence that needs to be considered.
In a sworn deposition, Officer John Casey Smith, who was hit in the lower abdomen the night of the shooting, said he did not recall anyone yelling, “Sheriff’s Office.”
In other words, DeRossett had no reason to assume these were police officers arresting his niece, rather than a group of men trying to force her into a car against her will.
Now, history shows that DeRossett has an uphill battle. Other cases of people firing on police in what they believed to be in self-defense often didn’t work out well for those folks. However, I’ve never agreed with those cases. If people have no reason to believe the police are coming into their home, and suddenly doors are being busted open and guns pointed around, I’m not that likely to ask a whole lot of questions before I start firing. Why should anyone else?
DeRossett’s case is another one where I probably wouldn’t ask for ID either. If they weren’t uniformed–and there’s no indication they were–then I’d probably assume I was witnessing a kidnapping as well.
And I’d probably end up at trial as well.
The thing is, there has to be a balance here. Yes, officer safety is important. I get that. I also get that it’s not always practical or advisable for the police to scream who they are ever three seconds.
But on the same token, citizens have a right to self-defense when threatened, and they can’t spend all day trying to determine if it’s a real threat or not. A reaction has to be made at that moment.
The flip side, however, is what I noted before. If you’re not careful, everyone who pops a shot at the police will claim they were acting in self-defense.
It’ll be interesting to see how this one shakes out.