Daytona Beach, FL – A man who tried to kill three Brevard County Sheriff’s deputies in 2015 has been allowed to walk free under Florida’s “stand your ground” law.
Brevard County Sheriff’s Deputy Casey Smith was shot in the lower abdomen during the incident, The Daytona Beach News-Journal reported.
He nearly died of his wounds, and remained off-duty for a year, according to WESH.
Deputy Smith was ultimately medically retired from the sheriff’s office due to his injuries, Florida Today reported.
The shooter, 60-year-old John DeRossett, was charged with attempted first-degree murder of a law enforcement officer while discharging a firearm, the Associated Press reported.
On April 15, the Fifth District Court of Appeals dismissed all charges against him, citing the state’s “stand your ground” law.
“The appellate decision is better than a jury acquittal,” the gunman’s attorney, Michael Panella, told The Daytona Beach News-Journal. “An acquittal only means ‘not guilty.’ This order means that John is innocent, that his actions were justified, and that he never should have been arrested in the first place.”
“It’s a total vindication,” Panella declared.
The shooter also praised the appellate court’s decision, and said that people don’t understand how it feels to be him.
“Thank God. Thank Jesus. Thank everybody. Thank you,” DeRossett told Florida Today. “You just don’t know how it feels, you know? I’m trying to hold the tears back.”
Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey said he is “in no way, shape, or form pleased with this ruling” during a press conference one day after the court’s decision was handed down.
“I do respect the judges’ ruling in this case. I don’t agree with it in any capacity. I want to be very clear,” Sheriff Ivey said.
The shooting occurred on Aug. 20, 2015, when three undercover deputies traveled to DeRossett’s home with the intent of arresting his niece, 47-year-old Mary Ellis “The Cougar” DeRossett, on a charge of prostitution, Florida Today reported.
According to court records, she had been meeting with “clients” in her bedroom at the home she shared with DeRossett – a fact prosecutors said DeRossett was well aware of.
The deputies met the female suspect at the front door and identified themselves, Deputy Smith later testified.
“[Agent Peter Stead] pulled out his badge and said ‘Sheriff’s Office!’ and grabbed her,” Deputy Smith explained. “Then all hell broke loose. He grabbed her out of the door and pulled her toward the yard, and she started screaming very loudly.”
Panella told the court that DeRossett opened fire when he heard his niece screaming, and claimed that he had no idea they were deputies, The Daytona Beach News-Journal reported.
DeRossett said he believed the people at the door were trying to kidnap her, according to WESH.
The gunman spent nearly five years in jail before he was released on bond in March, The Daytona Beach News-Journal reported.
The appellate court ruled that the shooter was entitled to protect his home against the perceived threat under the state’s “stand your ground” law, and that prosecutors failed to prove DeRossett knew the men at the door were law enforcement officers, according to WESH.
“Our law enforcement officers risk their lives daily to protect our community,” the state’s attorney’s office said in a statement after the decision, according to The Daytona Beach News-Journal. “This ruling adds to that risk by extending protection to those who turn a blind eye to criminal activity, even within their own home.”
Sheriff Ivey said that DeRossett was absolutely aware that the men at his door that day were law enforcement officers, Florida Today reported.
“[He] knew exactly what he was doing, and he knew exactly what was going on inside that house,” the sheriff insisted.
He said that Deputy Smith was victimized not only by the gunman, but also by the court.
“[Deputy Smith is] a true, true victim, not only in this case, but in this ruling because Casey’s life was completely changed by this individual’s actions. His career was changed. His life was changed. His family’s life was changed,” Sheriff Ivey told Florida Today.
The now-former deputy said he was very disappointed to learn that the man who attempted to kill him has gotten away with it.
“Casey is disappointed. But Casey is glad to be alive, glad to be able to spend time with his family. And, from our perspective, we feel the same exact way,” Sheriff Ivey said.
The sheriff said he believes it was the judges’ decision, not the actual “stand your ground” statute that is flawed, and he remains “a huge supporter” of the law, Florida Today reported.
“I don’t think this a fault with the statute,” he said. “I think this is a fault with the judges not applying all of the evidence in this case.”
“[This decision] has, quite frankly, put lives at risk, because there will be others that will use this ruling to their advantage,” Sheriff Ivey added.