Cigarettes Can Kill: Florida Deputies Shoot Man Looking for a Smoke in His Own Driveway

roy_8Jacob Sullum

Early Saturday morning, Roy Middleton was rummaging through his mother’s car in the driveway of his Warrington, Florida, home, looking for a cigarette, when he heard someone bark, “Get your hands where I can see them!” Middleton initially thought it was a neighbor playing a joke on him, but when he turned his head he saw Escambia County sheriff’s deputies standing in his driveway. The next thing he knew, he says, they were shooting at him. “It was like a firing squad,” Middleton told the Pensacola News Journal. “Bullets were flying everywhere.” Middleton was lucky the deputies were terrible shots. His injuries were limited to a leg wound. “My mother’s car is full of bullet holes though,” he said. “My wife had to go and get a rental.”

The deputies came to Middleton’s house around 2:42 a.m. after a neighbor saw him reaching into the car and called 911. What happened after that, from the cops’ perspective, is unclear. But let’s say they were unnerved by Middleton’s slowness in obeying the command to show his hands and feared that he was armed. Maybe he even moved in a way that suggested to the deputies that he might be reaching for a weapon. That scenario is in some ways similar to the one confronting Merritt Landry the previous night, when he shot a teenager who had hopped the fence in front of his New Orleans home. Landry said he shot the intruder, Marshall Coulter, because he seemed to be reaching for a weapon. Coulter was in fact unarmed, although there is little doubt, given his history of burglary arrests (his brother called him “a professional thief”), what he was planning to do after climbing the fence.

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