Jean-Baptiste v Gutierrez

Officer Gutierrez was on patrol in Lake City, Florida, where he was employed. During the shift a lookout was issued for red Neon occupied by two black males who were suspects in an armed robbery. A short time later Officer Gutierrez saw the vehicle traveling at a high rate of speed passing under a red traffic light on the shoulder of the roadway. Officer Gutierrez turned on his emergency equipment and a short high speed chase began. The Neon went through several other traffic lights and subsequently crashed into a wall. Erlis Jean-Baptiste and Sidney Jean took a bush bond into a residential area and Officer Gutierrez began a foot chase.

A witness who had been working on a residence saw where the two ran and motioned to Officer Gutierrez. The suspects ran into two other officers in the area who also gave chase, running the suspects back to Officer Gutierrez. As they approached Officer Gutierrez saw one of them carrying an unknown object which he thought was a firearm. Officer Gutierrez gave pursuit again chasing the two around a house where Jean-Baptiste went over a fence. At that time Officer Gutierrez was cognizant of a shed there. He turned and saw Jean-Baptiste holding a firearm 8 to 10 feet away. Officer Gutierrez fired fourteen rounds at Jean-Baptiste striking him eight times. Six times in his legs, once in his foot, and the one into his testicles. Jean-Baptiste fell to the ground after the last round. Officer Gutierrez went to Jean-Baptiste and saw the gun was laying a foot or two away. Officer Gutierrez called for help and reloaded his firearm. He then secured the crime scene. Jean-Baptiste survived but, was confined to a wheel chair.

An investigation was initiated. Statements made by Officer Gutierrez and Jean-Baptiste left no doubt that Jean-Baptiste was in possession of a firearm. Furthermore, Officer Gutierrez fired without verbal warning. In dispute were where Jean-Baptiste's firearm was located and why Officer Gutierrez discharged his firearm so many times. Officer Gutierrez stated that Jean-Baptiste was pointing the firearm at him and signaling that he would shoot. Officer Gutierrez stated the he fired repeatedly because Jean-Baptiste did not stop pointing the firearm at him and only stopped when Jean-Baptiste went down after his last round.

Jean-Baptiste stated he did not point the gun at the officer nor, did he intend to shoot the officer. The firearm did not have a round in the chamber. He stated Officer Gutierrez's first or second shot was to the groin. So, the following shots were maliciously and sadistically administered.

At the crime scene a 9mm auto was found with the safety disengaged and partially cocked. No cartridge was in the chamber but, the magazine contained 12 rounds.

Jean-Baptiste was indicted for burglary with assault or battery while armed, kidnapping with a weapon, aggravated battery with a deadly weapon or firearm, armed carjacking, unlawful possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, unlawful possession of a firearm by a violent career criminal, and aggravated assault on an officer. The firearm charges were dismissed prior to trial.

At trial Jean-Baptiste was convicted of all charges relating to the crimes he committed other than assaulting Officer Gutierrez.

Immediately thereafter, Jean-Baptiste filed a complaint against Officer Gutierrez alleging excessive force to the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida. In the complaint he alleged that he fell to the ground after the first round and that Officer Gutierrez continued to fire without cause.

Officer Gutierrez moved for summary judgment based on qualified immunity. Officer Gutierrez's argument was that he re-acted as any reasonable person would do under those circumstances would. Deadly force was necessary as he feared for his life and that of others. He tendered into evidence statements by a co-defendant, other police officers, Jean-Baptiste's statement, crime scene reports and forensic reports.

Jean-Baptiste agreed that Officer Gutierrez reacted in the scope of his authority. However, he argued that Officer Gutierrez went beyond his authority by using deadly force. Jean-Baptiste claimed he did not point the gun at Officer Gutierrez nor had the firearm in battery to fire. Jean-Baptiste also leaned upon the testimony of the eyewitness Perez. Perez on the other hand admitted he could not see what actually took place when Officer Gutierrez fired on Jean-Baptiste.

The district court found for Jean-Baptiste. In its decision it ruled:

The district court denied Officer Gutierrez's motion for summary judgment on the ground that he acted unreasonably by using deadly force after the need for force had subsided. The district court viewed the evidence in the light most favorable to Jean-Baptiste and found that Officer Gutierrez "maliciously and sadistically shot a non-resisting, non-fleeing (Jean-Baptiste) an additional ten to twelve times from close range after having incapacitated him with an initial shot to the genital-region and after (Jean-Baptiste)'s weapon was no longer within his control." The district court (*8) "concluded that even if the initial use of deadly force was constitutionally permissible, the additional ten or twelve shots fired while (Jean-Baptiste) lay unarmed on the ground in an incapacitated state constituted a Fourth Amendment violation by Defendant Gutierrez." (Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida. D.C. Docket No. 1:07-cv-21728-ASG. ERLIS JEAN-BAPTISTE, Plaintiff-Appellee, versus JOSE GUTIERREZ, Police Officer, Miami-Dade Police Department, Defendant-Appellant.No. 10-11129 Non-Argument Calendar UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE ELEVENTH CIRCUIT, 2010 U.S. App. LEXIS 24870)

Officer Gutierrez appealed to the 11th United States District Court for qualified immunity. The court took into consideration Graham v Connor and reasoned that officers are forced to make split second decisions. Particularly in rapidly evolving events where they must use force and determine the amount of force necessary in the situation they found themselves in. In any situation reasonableness must be definitive. What the circumstances are, the seriousness of the offense, and the danger an offender may take on innocent citizens or fellow officers. Additionally whether a warning may or, may not be issued before the implementation of deadly force and the perspective of the officer. "(t)he only perspective that counts is that of a reasonable officer on the scene at the time the events unfolded." (Garczynski v. Bradshaw, 573 F.3d 1158, 1166 (11th Cir. 2009)

Officer Gutierrez was in a difficult situation. Jean-Baptiste was suspected of committing violent crimes and had run from Officer Gutierrez. Jean-Baptiste was armed and posed a threat to Officer Gutierrez and others. Officer Gutierrez had seconds to make the decision to utilize deadly force. Officer Gutierrez believed that he had stumbled into an ambush and he had to use deadly force because, Jean-Baptiste was armed, had the firearm in his hands, and Officer Gutierrez could not wait to see what Jean-Baptiste's intentions were. "(T)he law does not require officers in a tense and dangerous situation to wait until the moment a suspect uses a deadly weapon to act to stop the suspect." (Long v. Slaton, 508 F.3d 576, 581 (11th Cir. 2007).

On the issue of the number of rounds fired by Officer Gutierrez the court found in Crenshaw v. Lister, 556 F.3d 1283, 1293 (11th Cir. 2009) that officers may use force until the offender is secured and does not pose a threat. Officer Gutierrez utilized force until Jean-Baptiste no longer posed a threat. Officer Gutierrez could not trust that Jean-Baptiste would not try to hurt him under these circumstances.

The 11th circuit ruled that the district court's decision that Officer Gutierrez acted maliciously and sadistically were subjective beliefs and were irrelevant to qualified immunity. Officer Gutierrez used reasonable force in dealing with Jean-Baptiste. Jean-Baptiste failed to prove to the court otherwise. Officer Gutierrez was entitled to qualified immunity. The 11th circuit reversed the lower court's decision and awarded Officer Gutierrez qualified immunity.