A Palm Beach County sheriff's deputy who shot and killed a 26-year old father while the man was lying on the ground will not be protected from a civil battle over the shooting. A federal appeals court judge made the ruling on Tuesday.
The move now clears the way for this case to head to civil trial.
According to the 11th U.S. District Court of Appeals, Palm Beach County sheriff's deputy Michael Suszczynski is not entitled to qualified immunity for the fatal shooting of Victor Arango.
The shooting occurred just outside the now defunct 1st and 10 Sports Bar in suburban Boynton Beach on June 7, 2012.
Arango was killed after deputies responded to a fight involving two women. Arango's girlfriend at the time was one of the women involved in the fight that eventually moved outside the bar.
Deputy Suszczynski claimed since Arango was armed at the time of the shooting, he should be protected from any lawsuit since the weapon presented a threat to the deputy's safety. But evidence presented by attorneys representing Arango's young daughter paint a much different picture.
According to witnesses, while Arango was carrying a gun when he was first approached by deputies, another deputy had already moved the gun out of the way. Witnesses said Deputy Suszczynski shot Arango twice in the back while Arango was already lying on the ground and being compliant. That evidence, said the court, would constitute excessive force and not exempt the deputy from any lawsuit.
The decision does not mean the courts are siding with Arango's family. Instead, the ruling means it will be up to jurors to decide whose version they believe.
Deputy Suszczynski has said he believed his life and another deputy's life was in danger because Arango was armed. The shooting raised questions in the community at the time.
Several witnesses spoke out to WPTV saying Arango was already subdued and compliant when the deputy pulled the trigger at close range.
The shooting was ruled justified by the state attorney's office. An internal review of the shooting was also conducted by PBSO and Deputy Suszczynski was cleared of any wrongdoing in the shooting.
In a deeper investigation months later, the Contact 5 Investigators also discovered Deputy Suszczynski had a history of using excessive force at the agency and in other law enforcement positions he held prior to joining PBSO. As part of our investigation, we also found PBSO spent years hiding those records from the public.
A civil trial over the shooting death of Arango is expected to begin sometime this year.