Guy Rubin interviewed for TCPalm article on Civil Rights lawsuits

Investigation: Complaints against aggressive policing costly in Indian River County

Melissa E. Holsman ,

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY —  When James Noble died two weeks after being shot outside his home by a Vero Beach police officer responding to a possible prowler in 2011, the 70-year-old’s family called his death an “unjustified” use of force.

If we didn’t take these kinds of cases, you would never have the courts telling law enforcement what the appropriate confines are for constitutional behavior. The courts make decisions, and those decisions are then the law of the land, and police, law enforcement agencies, are supposed to abide by those decisions.
— Guy Bennett Rubin, Esq.

According to police reports, when Noble saw the officer, he pulled a .45-caliber handgun from his waistband and pointed it at the officer. Noble was shot in the chest after he failed to put the weapon down when ordered to do so. The officer was later cleared by a grand jury.

Noble’s family told a different version of events in a federal lawsuit filed against the Police Department, and later dropped, that accused the officer of improperly firing his weapon.

Physical clashes such as this between the public and local law enforcement either preceded or caused the deaths of 29 people in the past 16 years, state and court records show. Twenty fatal encounters on the Treasure Coast involved police gunfire later determined to be justified.

It’s too soon to know if Sunday’s shooting death in Gifford of Alteria Woods, 21, by members of the Indian River County Sheriff Office Special Weapons and Tactics team, also will be ruled as a justified use of deadly force. Records show her death is the first fatal officer-involved shooting in 2017 on the Treasure Coast.

Sheriff officials have said Woods was a bystander caught in an early morning firefight with law enforcement during a drug raid that also wounded a deputy and ended with the arrests of two father-and-son career criminals.

When these fatal incidents occur, most often during traffic stops or domestic disturbances, they can anger a community, launch criminal probes or prompt change. They also put a spotlight on the agency and its officers' conduct.

But they rarely spur the lawsuits agencies defend against most, and cost taxpayers the most to resolve.

A months-long investigation into police encounters dating to 2000 shows that while Treasure Coast law enforcement agencies spent $1.6 million to settle claims related to six deaths involving police, they spent more than double that amount to settle claims accusing police of aggressive behavior.