The agent was part of a sting operation, who were attempting to arrest DeRossett’s niece, Mary Ellis, for prostitution. They had set up a controlled environment at a motel, but Mary Ellis did not show up. From floridatoday.com:
Brevard County agents set up a prostitution sting on Aug. 20, 2015, arranging to meet DeRossett’s niece, Mary Ellis, at a motel where a controlled environment had been set up to conduct an arrest.
When she didn’t show, the three deputies in plain clothes went to her Covina Street home in Port St. John, where Agent Peter Stead grabbed Ellis from the doorway while John “Casey” Smith and Jason Roberts hid in the darkened yard.
During their testimony at the immunity hearing, the deputies said it was unusual to go to a suspect’s home for a sting operation when a controlled environment had already been established.
When she was grabbed, Ellis began screaming for help from her uncle, who was in a back room eating at the time, according to court records.
There was strong evidence DeRossett did not know the men accosting his niece were deputies. None of the deputies were in uniform. His statements, immediately after the event, and in the hospital, were all consistent with the belief that unknown men were attempting to kidnap his niece. He knew his niece had problems with drugs and prostitution.
DeRossett was retired. He had a concealed carry permit. He had no criminal record. He had taken his niece into his home as a favor to his sister. From the Petition to the Florida Fifth District Court of Appeals:
Petitioner, John DeRossett, a sixty-five-year-old retired General Motors autoworker, owned a home in Brevard County, Florida. Derossett’s adult niece, Mary Ellis, lived with him in this home. Derossett had no criminal record, worked part-time as a security guard at Port Canaveral, and lawfully possessed a concealed weapons permit. He had also apparently taken a firearms training course.
On August 20, 2015, at approximately 9:30 p.m., Ellis answered a knock on the front door. As she opened the door, a man reached inside the threshold of the house, grabbed her arm, and began pulling Ellis out of the home and onto the covered front porch. Ellis struggled to resist her apparent abduction and screamed to her uncle (DeRossett) that she needed help. At this point, two other men approached to physically assist the first man in pulling Ellis off the porch of the home and into the front yard.
John DeRossett was in a backroom, eating, when he heard her screams. It was dark outside the home.
The first shot was when DeRossett fired a “warning shot” into the air. The men who had accosted his niece (the deputies) then fired at him, without identifying themselves. A firefight ensued. One deputy, John “Casey” Smith, was severely wounded. More than 40 shots were fired. Both John DeRossett and his Niece were wounded, but less severely.
The homeowner, DeRossett, was charged with three counts of attempted murder of a police officer.
Police claimed they told the niece they were police officers as they grabbed her. She called 911 during or immediately after the firefight, and told the dispatcher she did not know who the men who grabbed her were.
The deputies had no warrant to arrest Mary Ellis.
Criminals often claim to be police to attempt to get compliance. The deputies never told DeRossett they were police.
Why would he be under obligation to believe them, unless they presented credentials or other convincing proof they were operating under lawful authority?
DeRossett was held in jail for nearly five years.
In August of 2018, at trial, his lawyer presented the defense that he was protected by the “Stand Your Ground” law. The local court found against him, saying that he knew, or should have known, the people he was shooting at were law enforcement officers.
He appealed to the federal Fifth Circuit Court of appeals in 2019.
The appeals court found the local court had incorrectly made the determination DeRossett should have known the men attacking his niece, and him, were police officers. The Fifth Circuit sent the case back to the local court, to determine if a different exception to Stand your Ground applied. The Stand Your Ground law would not apply if he was “furthering criminal activities” when the action took place.
The local court found against him again. This time, the court claimed the Stand Your Ground law did not apply, because he knew his niece had used her bedroom to conduct prostitution.
DeRossett appealed to the Florida Fifth District Court of Appeals again.
He stayed in jail until March of 2020, when he was allowed to bond out.
On 15 April, the Fifth District Court of Appeals dismissed the charges against him. They ruled that mere knowledge that criminal activities, such as prostitution, had occurred, is not “furthering criminal activities”. From clickorlando.com:
VIERA, Fla. – Citing the Stand Your Ground law, the Fifth District Court of Appeals dismissed the longstanding charges against a Port St. John man accused of shooting a Brevard County Sheriff’s deputy during a botched arrest in front of his home in 2015.
John DeRossett spent nearly five years in jail, for defending his niece against attackers who did not identify themselves as police.
John DeRossett is a free man today. He is alive. There was a time, when many assumed anyone, justified or not, who shot a police officer, would be killed by police. That is not true. It is less true today than it used to be.
In Houston, police officers have been charged with felony murder in the deaths of an innocent couple. The husband dared to protect his wife and dog against an unannounced home invasion. The couple were killed, but the officers are being held accountable.
Mistakes occur. Error is piled onto error. The world is not perfect.
Why, with the evidence, which was plain from the start, was John DeRossett locked up for nearly five years, when he was a homeowner, retired, who had no previous criminal record?
Will there be a civil suit against Brevard County?
The agents of the government are not supposed to be our masters. They are supposed to be our servants.
When agents of the government act as criminals, they should not be surprised when citizens treat them as criminals. When they disregard due process, they should lose immunity for their actions.
The case shows why the Stand Your Ground law was needed. Warrants are not only to protect the accused. Properly used, they also protect police. If the officer had a warrant, had knocked on the door and presented it, it is highly likely he would not have been shot.