ATLANTA, Ga. — According to a federal appeals court, police will not be held accountable for banging on the wrong door at 1:30 am, failing to identify themselves as police, and then repeatedly shooting and killing the innocent homeowner who answered the door while holding a gun in self-defense. Although 26-year-old Andrew Scott had committed no crime and never fired a single bullet or lifted his firearm against police, he was gunned down by police who were investigating a speeding incident by engaging in a middle-of-the-night “knock and talk” in Scott’s apartment complex.
In ruling in favor of qualified immunity for police, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit has given law enforcement agencies further incentives to engage in aggressive “knock and talk” practices, which have become thinly veiled, warrantless exercises by which citizens are coerced and intimidated into “talking” with heavily armed police who “knock” on their doors in the middle of the night.
“Government officials insist that there is nothing unlawful, unreasonable or threatening about the prospect of armed police dressed in SWAT gear knocking on doors in the middle of night and ‘asking’ homeowners to engage in warrantless ‘knock-and-talk’ sessions,” said constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of Battlefield America: The War on the American People. “However, as Andrew Scott learned, there’s always a price to pay for saying no to such heavy-handed requests by police. If the courts continue to sanction such aggressive, excessive, coercive ‘knock-and-shoot’ tactics, it will give police further incentive to terrorize and kill American citizens without fear of repercussion.”
On July 15, 2012, Deputy Richard Sylvester spotted a speeding motorcycle while on patrol in Lake County, Florida. Sylvester pursued the motorcycle in his patrol car but lost sight of it. Subsequent reports caused Sylvester to believe that the motorcyclist might be armed, was wanted by another police department, and had been spotted at a nearby apartment complex. Arriving at the complex around 1:30 a.m., Sylvester and three other deputies began knocking on doors close to where a motorcycle was parked, starting with Apartment 114, where a light was on inside. Apartment 114 was occupied by Andrew Scott and Amy Young, who were playing video games and had no connection to the motorcycle or any illegal activity.
Assuming tactical positions surrounding the door to Apartment 114, the deputies had their guns drawn and ready to shoot. Sylvester, without announcing he was a police officer, then banged loudly and repeatedly on the door, causing a neighbor to open his door. When questioned by a deputy, the neighbor explained that the motorcycle’s owner did not live in Apartment 114. This information was not relayed to Sylvester. Unnerved by the banging at such a late hour, Andrew Scott retrieved his handgun before opening the door. When Scott saw a shadowy figure holding a gun outside his door, he retreated into his apartment only to have Sylvester immediately open fire. Sylvester fired six shots, three of which hit and killed Scott. A trial court subsequently ruled in favor of the police, ruling that Scott was to blame for choosing to retrieve a handgun before opening the door.
On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit ruled that Sylvester was protected by “qualified immunity,” reasoning that the use of excessive force did not violate “clearly established law.” Four judges dissented with the majority’s ruling, likening the “knock and talk” to a “knock and shoot” and rejecting the idea that Scott caused the shooting by exercising his Second Amendment right through his possession of a firearm.