BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. – Dash cam video of a Brevard County deputy firing into a car and killing two teens has sparked a conversation about law enforcement policy: Should deputies be allowed to fire into a motor vehicle?
“An officer should only fire his weapon if there is a reasonable belief that is going to stop the threat,” said Chuck Drago, a former police chief who was also a police instructor and now serves as a consultant and expert witness through his firm Drago Professional Consultants when police shootings happen.
“It is very unlikely that you are going to stop the movement or momentum of that car by shooting it. So the only thing you can do to thwart the threat so-to-speak, is to shoot the driver,” Drago said. “If you shoot the driver, now you have a vehicle riding down the road with nobody in control. That is much more dangerous.”
Brevard County deputy Jafet Santiago Miranda shot and killed 16-year-old AJ Crooms and 18-year-old Sincere Pierce earlier this month during a traffic stop, which is now under investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
(Scroll down to see how your local sheriff’s policy on shooting into a motor vehicle.)
Dash cam video released by Sheriff Wayne Ivey shows Santiago-Miranda calling for the car to stop seven times before firing 10 rounds into the slowly moving car.
Ivey, who did not return numerous requests for interviews through his spokesman, defended the shooting in a Facebook post.
“Deputy Santiago-Miranda (was) forced to fire his service weapon in an attempt to stop the deadly threat of the car from crashing into him,” the sheriff wrote.
WATCH THE DASHCAM VIDEO BELOW, WARNING VIDEO IS GRAPHIC
Drago, who has more than 30 years of law enforcement experience, reviewed the dash cam video. News 6 asked if he felt Santiago-Miranda’s actions were out of line.
“It is difficult to tell from the video. I cannot see what is on the deputy’s left-hand side. I do not know if he is blocked in by something. I cannot really tell where he is, but I can say this: An officer or deputy should not be trying to stop a vehicle, or pull a car over on foot,” Drago said.
According to a model use-of-force policy from the International Association of Chiefs of Police, officers can shoot into a moving vehicle but only under very specific circumstances, “such as a truck being driven through a crowd of innocent bystanders” or “when an occupant of the vehicle is shooting at the officer or others in the vicinity.”
Even then, IACP officials recommend these actions be taken as an absolute last resort, and officers must try “moving out of the path of the vehicle.”
News 6 reviewed Brevard County Sheriff’s Response to Resistance Policy. We found one reference to vehicles: deputies are allowed to use deadly force (i.e. shoot into a car) when “a subject tries to run a deputy or another person down in a vehicle.”
News 6 compared BCSO’s policy against other local sheriff’s offices. We found that while all other local sheriffs agreed that deputies should be allowed to use deadly force if a vehicle is trying to run someone over, each sheriff said that option should be considered only as a last resort. If a life was not in danger, shooting into a motor vehicle was classified as a “prohibited act,” or not authorized by other local sheriffs.
Many sheriffs also offered further instruction related to shooting into a motor vehicle.
Locally, we found Orange County Sheriff John Mina orders deputies “to move out of the path” of a car before firing as a last resort.
Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood says deputies cannot assume “a moving vehicle alone….(is) a threat that justifies…use of deadly force.” In other words, deputies cannot assume the vehicle is being used as a weapon.
Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly forbids deputies from firing into vehicles unless lives are at risk, citing the practice as “ineffective.”
“The other policies are more in step with policies across Florida and across the county which say, ‘You should not shoot into a moving vehicle, unless’,” Drago said. “They give some parameters that will allow an officer to shoot if there is no other choice, if he cannot get out of the way, if that vehicle is trying to run him over. But the clear message from those other departments is: We do not want you shooting into moving vehicles. I do not get that same sense from Brevard County.”
Some believe it is time for a policy revision.
“I think that Brevard County has a problem with their policy,” attorney Natalie Jackson said.
Jackson is co-counsel for family members of both Crooms and Pierce.
“I think Sheriff Ivey needs to revise that policy,” Jackson said. “If one thing happens from this case, I would like to see their policy revised.”
Sheriff policies on shooting into a motor vehicle, click each link to read the policy in its entirety:
International Association of Chiefs of Police, National Consensus Policy on Use of Force – See pages 4, 14 and 15. Officers are allowed to shoot into a moving vehicle, but only under very specific circumstances, like when the vehicle is being used as a weapon “such as a truck being driven through a crowd of innocent bystanders” or “when an occupant of the vehicle is shooting at the officer or others in the vicinity”. Even under these circumstances, these actions should be taken as an absolute last resort, and “primary consideration must be given to moving out of the path of the vehicle.”
Brevard County Sheriff’s Office, Response to Resistance – See page 2. The policy allows an officer to use deadly force if a person tries to run a deputy or another person over. There is no additional language prohibiting shooting into a motor vehicle.
Flagler County Sheriff’s Office, Response to Resistance / De-escalation Techniques – See page 9. Forbids deputies from firing into vehicles, unless there is an imminent danger of death. Classifies the practice as “ineffective and should only be considered as a last resort.”
Lake County Sheriff’s Office, Use of Force – See pages 3 and 7. Unless there is a life or death situation, firing into a vehicle “is prohibited because experience has shown that it is rarely effective and extremely hazardous to innocent persons.”
Marion County Sheriff’s Office, Use of Force – See page 10. The policy forbids deputies from firing into a motor vehicle unless the use of deadly force is justified and lawful.
Orange County Sheriff’s Office, Use of Force – See page 13. Deputies are prohibited from firing into a vehicle, unless there is “an imminent danger of death or seriously bodily injury.” Deputies are directed to first try to get out of the way of the vehicle before firing.
Osceola County Sheriff’s Office, Response to Resistance and Aggression – See page 9. Policy forbids deputies from firing into a motor vehicle unless “it is deemed necessary to do so to protect against an imminent threat” to life.
Seminole County Sheriff’s Office, Response to Resistance – See page 5. The policy allows deputies to shoot into a vehicle only if “occupants of the (car) are using lethal force against the deputy or (others)…by means other than the vehicle.” In other words, deputies should not assume the vehicle is being used as a weapon.
Sumter County Sheriff’s Office, Use of Force – See page 2. Allows deputies to fire into moving vehicles only to prevent death or great bodily harm, or to prevent the escape of a fleeing felon who poses an immediate threat to the life of a deputy or person.
Volusia County Sheriff’s Office – See page 10. Policy tells deputies they should not assume the vehicle is being used as a deadly weapon. Policy also instructs deputies to make every effort to get out of the way of the vehicle, only shooting if there is no other option.