Miami officer who shot at suspect 14 times wins appeal

ATLANTA (Reuters) - A Miami police officer acted reasonably when he fired 14 shots at a suspect during an arrest in 2003, a spokesman for a federal appeals court in Atlanta said on Tuesday.

Erlis Jean-Baptiste filed a federal civil rights complaint against officer Jose Gutierrez, claiming he used excessive force during the arrest because he continued to fire even after Jean-Baptiste was incapacitated by the first bullet.

But the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday dismissed the complaint, ruling that the shooting was justified because Jean-Baptiste, who was armed, posed a threat to Gutierrez.

“Gutierrez faced more than a possibility of harm,” according to the ruling. “Officer Gutierrez was confronted by a suspect of a dangerous crime who was lying in wait and holding a gun.”

Jean-Baptiste can ask the appeals court for a rehearing or appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, 11th Circuit spokesman Matt Davidson said.

The incident happened when Gutierrez, on patrol in a marked police car, received a report to be on the lookout for two armed robbery and burglary suspects in a red Dodge Neon, the appeals court said.

The officer later saw two men in a red Neon speeding through a red light and gave chase. The Neon crashed into a wall and the suspects fled on foot.

While chasing the two men, Gutierrez suddenly encountered Jean-Baptiste eight to ten feet away, holding a gun. The officer fired 14 times, with eight bullets hitting Jean-Baptist in the legs, foot and groin. Jean-Baptist is confined to a wheelchair from the shooting.

A jury later found Jean-Baptiste guilty of burglary, kidnapping, aggravated battery, robbery, and carjacking, but acquitted him of assaulting Gutierrez.

Writing by David Beasley, editing by Matthew Bigg and Greg McCune