ORLANDO, Fla. - 9 Investigates has uncovered a pattern in officer-involved shootings across our area.
In dozens of cases WFTV studied, the use of deadly force by law enforcement was deemed "justified," even under the most controversial circumstances.
The recent shooting death of Andrew Scott was one of those highly controversial cases.
Last July, in the middle of the night, Lake County Sheriff's deputies knocked on the wrong apartment door while they searched for a suspect. When Scott answered, gun in hand, he was shot dead.
Even though those deputies never announced themselves as law enforcement, a state review found their use of deadly force "justified," and the case was listed as "resolved."
"I screamed and went into hysterics," said Amy Young, Scott's mother, as she recalled hearing the results of that review. "One law enforcement agency is not going to point a finger on another. And I was stupid to think that they'd come up with the truth."
Stirred by her questions, 9 Investigates studied five years of law enforcement-involved shooting reviews from across central Florida and found a pattern: Out of 103 cases investigated by the FDLA, state attorneys ultimately deemed the use of deadly force "justified" in 97 cases.
That's a 94 percent justification rate. Only a handful of the cases were presented to grand juries.
"I can't say we were surprised," said Mark NeJame, the attorney for Scott's family.
NeJame said most officers follow rules, but one law enforcement agency reviewing another raises questions when the findings are so one-sided.
"There is clearly a presumption, in my opinion, that law enforcement acts correctly," said NeJame.
Every review is based on the specific facts of that particular officer shooting and experts said the reviewers are not asking whether the officer's split-second decision was "perfect," but rather, whether it was "reasonable."
University of Central Florida criminology Professor Bob Ford also finds that officers are shooting less frequently overall. He also said improved trainings means officers are very well coached in precisely when they can and cannot open fire.
"Our training has changed dramatically. We're much less willing to shoot now, other than when we have no other options," said Ford.
For an anguished mother, such explanations are little comfort.
"A box of
ashes. That's what I'm left with. And a broken heart," said Young.
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