Two incidents involving Escambia County deputies are being investigated for what may be possible police misconduct, one involving an unnecessary shooting, and the other involving a warrantless entry into a home that ended in the needless shooting of both of the resident owner’s pet, one which died. The first incident involved County deputies who shot 15 rounds at Roy Howard Middleton, a 60-year-old unarmed Florida man who was looking for his cigarettes in his mother’s car, parked in his own driveway. Two of those bullets hit him, shattering his left leg. Middleton says he was compliant when the cops told him to turn around, and that as he was turning around to face deputies with his hands raised, they opened fire. The two deputies said they were responding to a 911 call about a car thief and that Middleton turned and “lunged” at them with a shiny object in his hand.
According to Florida’s courts, reasonable suspicion is present when a reasonable police officer under similar circumstances would believe criminal activity had just occurred, was occurring at that moment, or was about to occur. In other words, whether that specific officer’s belief was reasonable is reviewed by the courts using an objective standard (what a reasonable officer would have believed under similar circumstances).
In this case, the police could have reasonably believed Middleton was a possible suspect in a burglary. However, the police could also reasonably believe that Middleton was trying to get into a car that he had a right to be in. A few simple questions of the man and what his purpose was in accessing the car would have been simple enough. Middleton had his hands up. The gunfire was unnecessary. As Jacksonville criminal attorney blog has stated many times before, there are other alternatives to neutralizing a suspect other than shooting them.
Many times, the true reason that the suspect is suspected in the first place is unfortunately because of racial discrimination, profiling, or other discriminatory practices that would drive a police officer determine in his own mind that the person he is attempting to apprehend is in fact the perpetrator of a crime. In this case, Middleton is black. The two sheriff’s deputies are white. Although there are no specific facts to show that officers acted with racial prejudice, racial prejudice should not be ruled out.
Other times, officers write on their report any factors they think necessary to make the action committed by police justifiable as a result. In this case, the officer’s claim they were justified in shooting at Middleton because they claim he “lunged” at them with a shiny object, and thus their actions are legal under the eyes of the law. However, 15 shots for one man cannot possibly be justified. 15 shots between two officers means that both officers nearly emptied their ammunition clip in their weapon on this man, rather than simply asking him what he was doing. As for the shiny object in his hand, that could have been a house key or car key even. However, the officers never even asked Middleton what was in his hands. Irrational and unjustifiable actions like this by police may result in stroll through the neighborhood to a friend’s house into a night in a jail and an up-hill battle to clear one’s name.
The second incident involved Six Escambia County deputies who climbed through the window of a private residence without a warrant, dragging a sleeping couple out of their bed, shooting at their two dogs, one of which later died. The police were pursuing a suspect in an armed disturbance earlier in the evening on the couple’s street, found an upside-down bucket next to a window of their home, knocked on the door, and when nobody answered, they just entered through the window. Police claim that upon encountering the people in the house, the dogs became aggressive. One dog bit at one of the deputy’s leg, at which point he pushed the dog away; unfortunately, the dog came at him again, and the officer shot the dog in self-defense, at which time the second dog began to run towards him. For his personal safety, he shot the second dog. The couple, who are white, say they were asleep in bed. Then the cops threw them on the ground, handcuffed them and dragged them into the hallway, and then started shooting at the dogs. No arrests were made. That case is also being investigated.
Under the 4th amendment, if the police have exigent circumstances, or circumstances that would show that evidence of criminal activity could be removed or destroyed quickly, or the police are currently in “hot pursuit” of a suspect, the police may conduct a search without a warrant. However, one has a reasonable expectation of privacy from government intrusion in one’s home. This means that police may not enter one’s home without a warrant if they do not have probable cause.
In this case, earlier in the evening, the police were in pursuit of a suspect in an armed disturbance on the couple’s street. However, the trail went cold. Therefore, “hot pursuit” is no longer applicable, and therefore the exception to the warrant requirement does not apply.
Furthermore, probable cause, the now applicable standard, would not be found from an upside-down bucket next to a window of a home. Wind, squirrels, and dead tree branches can knock over a bucket. Furthermore, the police had not investigated the home before, so how can the police positively say that the bucket was not knocked over long before then?
The biggest misconduct violation of all was the police entering into a dwelling with no probable cause or warrantless entry exception. Just because someone does not answer the door, does not mean that a police officer can just enter through the window of the home. The officers probably felt they were in the right because they were looking for an armed suspect. The courts should not allow “hot pursuit”, the only possible justification in this case to suspend the warrant requirement, to be used as a justification for what police misconduct and serious violations of the Constitution. If county sheriff’s offices allow their deputies to participate in this kind of conduct, then every time an armed suspect in any general location is being pursued, whether by hot, warm or cold case pursuit, the police will feel justified under the law in invading one’s privacy, an act that is not justifiable under the U.S. Constitution.
Many times, the officer will claim one is being detained; remember, the detention could very well be illegal. However, resisting arrest can only make the situation worse for one who is already dealing with an officer who is not following the law correctly. One needs an experienced Jacksonville criminal defense attorney who has the knowledge to properly fight the charge and ensure one’s rights are protected.
The Forbess Law Firm has been aiding clients who face criminal charges in Jacksonville for years and are here to provide aggressive criminal defense to anyone accused of a crime. If you or a loved one require a Jacksonville criminal defense lawyer, contact our firm today. We are available through our website or by calling us at 904-634-0900.
Additional Source: Who is this Florida sheriff protecting?, Dahlia Lithwick, The Herald Opinion