You're a suspect in an armed robbery. Your get away car has just crashed after you've lead police on a high speed chase. You get out of the car and pull an "unknown object" that may or may not be a gun on an officer. You're shot. You're down. You're incapacitated. Does the officer then have the right to continue shooting at you with at least a dozen more bullets? The eleventh circuit United States Court of Appeals says yes.
In a ruling today the court sided with Miami-Dade police officer Jose Gutierrez in a suit claiming excessive force brought on by since-convicted criminal Erlis Jean-Baptiste, and said he acted reasonably by firing fourteen shots at Jean-Baptiste.
The case stems from an incident back in 2003. After an alert was issued for two men in a red Dodge Neon, Gutierrez spotted Jean-Baptiste and another suspect in the car who were running a red light. A chase followed with the Neon eventually crashing into a wall. The two suspects fled on foot, and Jean-Baptiste pulled out a gun, though the officer was not immediately sure the object was a gun.
Gutierrez shot at Jean-Baptiste, and either the second or first bullet brought him down. Though the officer continued shooting at the suspect for a total of 14 bullets, with 6 landing in his legs, foot and testicle.
Gutierrez contended that Jean-Baptiste was not brought down by the first bullet. He also claims that Jean-Baptiste threatened him with the gun by pointing it at him. Jean-Baptiste denies this.
Jean-Baptiste sued Gutierrez for excessive force, and is now confined to a wheelchair.
A district court originally ruled in favor of the criminal stating that the officers actions violated the Fourth Amendment, but the appeals court reversed the decision in favor of the officer. They ruled Gutierrez acted reasonably, and that even after he was downed Jean-Baptiste still presented a threat.
Jean-Baptiste has filed a motion to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.
Jean-Baptiste was earlier convicted for kidnapping, robbery, burglary,
aggravated battery, and carjacking stemming from his original crimes but charges of assaulting the officer were dismissed.
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