Florida Supreme Court to hear Deputy Peter Peraza's 'stand your ground' defense

BSO deputy claims he fatally shot Jermaine McBean in self-defense

PEMBROKE PARK, Fla. – Jermaine McBean had small earbuds on to listen to music. He walked to a pawn shop to buy a pellet rifle that looked like a real rifle. He propped it on his shoulder during his walk back home in Oakland Park. A white plastic bag didn't completely cover it.

Several drivers called 911 to report McBean was a threat. A dispatcher said it appeared he was carrying a .22 caliber rifle. Broward Sheriff’s Office Deputy Peter Peraza was among the deputies who answered the call and approached McBean from behind. Some deputies were shouting orders at him.

Witnesses said McBean never pointed the air rifle at anyone. When McBean turned around, Peraza fatally shot him. The computer engineer without a criminal record died July 31, 2013. He was 33. The Broward Sheriff's Office gave Peraza a bravery award after the incident.

"I felt like my life was threatened," the 14-year veteran said. "I felt like I could have been killed. My sergeant could have been killed. He could have shot somebody in the pool area."

After a grand jury indicted Peraza, he was arrested Dec. 11, 2015 and charged with manslaughter with a firearm. Nearly five years after McBean's death, he is still fighting the first-degree felony charge and he is getting ready for a showdown in the Florida Supreme Court, which agreed Thursday to hear his "stand your ground" case.

In 2016, Broward County Judge Michael Usan dismissed the charge under the "stand your ground" law, which was meant to give a person immunity if a preponderance of evidence showed they had perceived a threat that had forced them to use reasonable force to defend themselves or others.

Law enforcement officers are already immune from consequence when an investigation shows the use of deadly force was appropriate.

Sgt. Richard La Cerra, who also answered the 2013 call, testified in court that when McBean turned around, it appeared as if he was "going to swing and point the rifle at us."

Some civilian witnesses disagreed and some civil rights lawyers believed the use of the "stand your ground" law was just a way for law enforcement officers to convince a judge to protect them from a grand jury. 

"A law enforcement officer under any reasonable understanding of our language qualifies as a person," Usan wrote. 

Broward County prosecutors appealed Usan's decision. Last year, the Fourth District Court of Appeal determined that a law enforcement officer is entitled to the self-defense protection of the "stand your ground" law, despite a 2012 contradictory ruling from the Second District Court of Appeal. 

Haines City Police Department Officer Juan Caamano was called to a fight on Oct. 22, 2010. He was caught on video stomping near 63-year-old Matthew Manigault's legs, as he helped fellow police officers subdue him. Caamano, who was fired after the incident, was arrested and charged with attempted battery in 2011.

After the Second District Court of Appeal rejected his "stand your ground" motion, Caamano went to trial. After watching the police officers' dash cam video and hearing testimony, the jury acquitted him of the misdemeanor in 2014. 

Peraza, who wants to be back on patrol, had been working an administrative role for the BSO. The Florida Supreme Court will make the final decision in his case. 

About the Author:

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.