By Brian Silber, Special to South Florida Reporter, Dec. 14, 2015 – On July 31, 2013, Deputy Peter Peraza and other members of Broward Sheriff’s Office encountered Jermaine McBean at his apartment complex in Oakland Park, Florida. McBean, a 33 year old computer system engineer, was walking around the apartment complex with a newly purchased air rifle.
According to BSO deputies, McBean was unresponsive to their screams to put down the rifle. McBean’s family claims that he was wearing headphones that prevented him from hearing anything the deputies were saying.
The day after the shooting, BSO claimed that McBean turned and pointed the rifle in the direction of Deputy Peraza. If that is true, did the Grand Jury get it right? Was this a justified shooting? Peraza is now accused of a 1st Degree Felony punishable by 30 years in prison? Is this right?
Information about what happened that night has not yet been made completely public. It is necessary to review the police reports and witness statements to get facts.
However, a few important points can be garnered. First, the Grand Jury who reviewed this case decided there was not enough evidence to charge Deputy Peraza with first degree murder. This is important because it speaks volumes about the evidence and the type of case the State Attorney is dealing with.
This was not an assassination.
Second, at least on the surface, this sounds like a justified police shooting. Lets break it down… man armed with a rifle is walking around an apartment complex and not being responsive to police commands to stop. What are police supposed to do, wait until the unusual behavior of this person turns deadly?
Am I missing something here?
Remember, unlike a knife or a baseball bat, a rifle is a range weapon – meaning it can kill from a far distance. Even though McBean was armed with an air rifle, there was no way for deputies to differentiate it from a real firearm… just take a look at the picture above if you have any doubt.
Here are some questions I would like to see answered before drawing a conclusion:
First, how did the police come to encounter McBean? Did someone call 9-1-1 and report a man walking around the apartment complex with a rifle? Did the deputies encounter McBean while on routine patrol or were they there for another call or reason?
This is important because it gives us a timeframe. Namely, it tells us how long McBean was walking around his apartment complex with a rifle in his hands. The longer he did so, the less legitimate and more dangerous it appears – especially to police arriving on scene who have a duty to protect the public.
If McBean was simply moving the rifle from his car to his apartment for two minutes, during which he unfortunately encountered police, that would be a very different scenario than the time it takes for someone to see McBean walking around with the rifle, call 9-1-1, for police to be dispatched, police to travel to the scene, get out of their cars, look for McBean, find McBean, then finally approach him and have the encounter.
The latter possibility tells us McBean was walking around with the rifle for some time. This is important because the longer he walked around that complex armed with a rifle, the more of a concern it would reasonably be to police – after all, why would anyone be walking around with a rifle in their hands for no apparent reason other than for something that threatens public safety, especially in these times of mass shootings?
Second, are there any independent eye witnesses or surveillance videos? The one known photograph shows McBean lying shot on the ground next to his rifle – which bolsters Deputy Peraza’s claim that McBean was armed. Are eye-witnesses objective, uninterested parties or are they fellow officers who may be motivated to stick up for one of their own or are they anti-cop citizens who hate the police?
Third, how many shots were fired? It appears as though only one was fired. This is an important clue because even though it does not by itself determine if a shooting was justified or unjustified, it does speak to the level of intensity created by the situation. In other words, one fired shot can show discipline and control on the part of the officer. This clue is valuable but needs to be considered in light of other evidence, if considered at all.
Fourth, what does the toxicology report of McBean’s autopsy show? Was he under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of the shooting? If so, this may bolster Deputy Peraza’s claim. If not, it may hurt his claim… after all, why would a sober, software engineer point a gun at the police? While not impossible, it just seems out of character. It’s not like McBean was a gang banger or a drug dealer.
Fifth, if McBean was shot in the front, how is it that he did not see the deputies? This isn’t a case where someone was shot from behind or the side. One fact I would like to know is how far away the deputies were when McBean was shot? Even with earphones in and loud music blasting, how could he miss police officers signaling his attention just a few feet in front of him?
Sixth, what does a digital forensic analysis of McBean’s cell phone or other electronic device reveal? Was he really listening to music or engaged in a phone call or did he merely have earbuds in with nothing else going on? Does the electronic evidence support or contradict his family’s claim that he would not have been able to hear the deputies’ commands?
To be clear, I am not drawing any conclusions just yet. This may be a case where police shot a guy prematurely. Being armed does not automatically give police the right to shoot a person. The person must present a threat. The reason why that law exists is because people do innocent things that may appear bad at first glance.
In this case, a software engineer had an air rifle draped over his arms as he walked through an apartment complex. Was he simply moving the rifle to and from his apartment or was he doing something else? Did McBean have an attitude with police and ignore their commands or did he legitimately not hear them because he was listening to loud music with earbuds?
As it stands, the available evidence presents more questions than answers – which usually indicates it is a sketchy case at best.
Many questions need to be answered before this case is resolved. Hopefully there is sufficient evidence to support this charge or else a serious miscarriage of justice may take place.
With Florida Litigation Attorneys, lawyer Brian Silber is an experienced trial attorney with nearly 15 years of courtroom experience. He has been to trial more than 100 times and has literally handled 1,000’s of criminal cases. He is also a former prosecuting attorney who understands the inner workings and culture of the State Attorney’s Office as well as the factors they find most important in any case.