FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – A Florida deputy charged with manslaughter in the 2013 fatal shooting of a man who was carrying an unloaded air rifle cannot delve into secret grand jury proceedings, a judge ruled Thursday.
The lawyer for suspended Broward Sheriff's Office Deputy Peter Peraza sought to obtain details about a grand juror whose daughter was arrested on drunken driving charges. The question, defense attorney Eric Schwartzreich said at a hearing, was whether enough information was gathered about the juror's potential conflict in the Peraza case or if the arrest caused a bias against law enforcement.
The daughter's case was moved from Broward County to Miami-Dade County in an order signed by Gov. Rick Scott to avoid any potential conflicts, Schwartzreich noted. The grand jury indicted Peraza last year.
"I just simply want to know how this was handled," the attorney said. "I'm not on a fishing expedition."
Prosecutor Tim Donnelly said there was no conflict, because Peraza had nothing to do with the daughter's case or a much older DUI arrest involving the grand juror's wife. Both arrests were made by other police agencies, with Broward Sheriff's Office personnel providing only support services.
Circuit Judge Michael Usan said the circumstances in the Peraza case didn't "rise to that level where we need to invade" the secrecy of grand jury proceedings. Usan said he was particularly concerned that future potential jurors might worry that their identities would more easily become public.
"I worry about the chilling effect of that as well," the judge said.
Peraza, 37, faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted in the July 2013 killing of 33-year-old Jermaine McBean, who was carrying an unloaded air rifle when confronted by deputies outside his apartment complex. McBean may have been listening to music through earbuds that prevented him from hearing deputies' commands to drop the weapon.
Peraza has pleaded not guilty. Schwartzreich has indicated he will try to get the case dismissed under Florida's "stand your ground" that requires no duty to retreat in the face of potential harm. The defense is also seeking medical records that indicate McBean had suffered from chronic mental health problems.
No trial date has been set.
McBean's family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit contending there was a cover-up at the sheriff's office aimed at protecting the deputy. The sheriff's office has denied that.
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