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A Florida sheriff who urged homeowners to shoot uninvited guests to “save taxpayers’ money” is being scolded by Florida defense attorneys, who accuse him of giving “wildly irresponsible” advice that could cause unnecessary loss of life and exacerbate racial tensions.
At a news conference last week, Santa Rosa Sheriff Bob Johnson discussed the arrest of Brandon Harris, a man known to the sheriff’s office. Searched for multiple arrest warrants, Harris’ fence jumped and broke into houses before eventually jumping with his head first out of a window where he was apprehended.
At one point, Johnson noticed that in one of the four houses Harris broke into, a homeowner shot at him – and missed. The sheriff had a message for the person who had not appeared.
“I think they think they did something wrong, which they did not,” Johnson said. “If someone breaks into your house, you’re more than welcome to shoot them in Santa Rosa County. We actually prefer that you do.”
“So whoever it was, you’re not in trouble,” Johnson added. “Come and see us. We have a gun safety class, we hold every other Saturday. And if you take it, you’ll shoot a lot better, and hopefully you save taxpayers’ money.”
“I’m an officer, not a politician,” Johnson told Fox & Friends on Tuesday. “If someone breaks into your house in Santa Rosa County and you shoot and kill him, the chances of them repeating after that are zero. And we like those odds.”
Johnson’s advice is legally correct, several criminal defense attorneys told NPR. Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law allows people to use lethal force to prevent a felony – including invasion of the home. And the uninvited guest does not have to have a weapon. “There is no requirement that they be armed before anyone can exercise their right to defend their property,” said Fort Lauderdale attorney Jason Blank, president of the Florida Bar’s Criminal Law Section.
But the lawyers were appalled at how cheeky Johnson apparently rejoiced at a potentially unnecessary death. “I can not agree with the sheriff that this is it ever preferred to shoot someone, “Blank said via email.
“It’s wildly irresponsible because it basically encourages people to use lethal force without taking it any further,” said Jude Faccidomo, president of the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (FACDL). “There are often times when someone is not an imminent threat to you.”
Faccidomo says it was “ruthless” for Johnson to make such a proclamation – and to cite the benefit to taxpayers by “shooting first and asking questions later.”
And those are not the reasonable Florida homeowners that Faccidomo cares about, Johnson’s advice. It’s the “mythical ‘Florida Man’ – who is not known for his common sense,” Faccidomo said. “Sheriff Johnson has just turned Santa Rosa into the Wild West. Maybe a sheriff’s salary is less of a better way to save taxpayers’ money.”
“Could be murder”
“Look, I’m the first guy to use ‘Stand Your Ground’ as a defense,” said Andrew Metcalf, a criminal defense attorney in Indian River County, Florida, and a former FACDL president. “I’m defending people for it. But I’m not calling, you know, death. And what he’s actually encouraging could be murder.”
It’s easy to imagine a situation where Johnson’s advice could lead to disastrous results, Metcalf said. If Johnson puts that notion in people’s heads, it could lead to a parent shooting their daughter while she sneaks home late at night. Or imagine a teenager asking his friend to come over and sneak into the house.
“Kids make mistakes,” Metcalf said. “They’re going to the wrong house. And then someone’s listening to the good old sheriff of Santa Rosa County and then their child’s head blown off.”
“Deputies and armed”
Florida self-defense laws state that if you are in your home, you can use deadly force if you reasonably fear for your life. But numerous studies have shown that implicit bias can cause unfounded racial enmity.
In other words, what if the hypothetical teenager’s friend trying to get into the house is black?
There could “absolutely” be racial consequences to what Johnson proposes, Faccidomo said. “When you have someone in uniform who tells you that they prefer you to shoot, that comment lands in the ears of people who may have some kind of implicit bias and may act in a way that is related to it rather than healthy. sense.
“Their subjective fear of whatever they have internalized has now been replaced and armed by the sheriff who says, ‘Go ahead and shoot. We encourage it’.”