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Supreme Court declines appeal in lottery winner's excessive force suit

Robert Swofford, a former Army special forces captain and lottery winner, is free to pursue his case against sheriff's deputies who shot him without warning, after the Supreme Court declined to hear the deputies' appeal.

By Staff writer / January 24, 2011

The Supreme Court, whose building is shown in this 2009 file photo, declined without comment to hear an appeal from two sheriff's deputies claiming immunity from a lawsuit. The deputies shot Robert Swofford, a retired U.S. Army special forces captain who had won local fame for a $60 million lottery win, after entering his property while pursuing attempted car thieves.

J. Scott Applewhite / AP / File

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Washington

A Florida man has won his bid to sue two sheriff’s deputies for allegedly using excessive force when they entered his fenced property without permission and shot him seven times after he confronted them in the darkness outside his home.

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The US Supreme Court on Monday refused without comment to take up the deputies’ appeal. The deputies had argued that the case should be thrown out of court because as law enforcement officers they are protected from liability by qualified immunity.

A federal judge and the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed, ruling that the case could be presented to a jury to determine whether the deputies acted reasonably. The high court action allows the trial to move forward.

The case revolves around the April 2006 shooting of Robert Swofford in Altamonte Springs, Florida. Mr. Swofford was well known in the community; two years earlier he won $60 million in the Florida lottery.

The series of events leading to the shooting began at 2:28 a.m. when Seminole County Deputy Sheriff Donald Remus noticed two men attempting to “hotwire” a car in an apartment complex parking lot. When the men saw the deputy they fled in the direction of Swofford’s property.

The deputy called for backup and chased the men but lost sight of them down the road. With an infrared-equipped police helicopter on the way, Remus and K9 Deputy William Morris decided to use Morris’ dog to track the suspects. They followed the scent to Swofford’s place, pried some boards back on the six-foot tall wooden fence and entered his six-acre property to search for two Hispanic men.

Swofford was asleep in bed when he heard his dog barking. He took his gun, locked his house, and went outside to investigate. After checking his garage, the former US Army special forces captain knelt in some brush to watch for intruders. He had his gun out, but had not chambered a round in preparation for an immediate gun fight.

He watched as two men with flashlights came through his fence after prying the boards back. One of the men appeared to be wearing a uniform, but he saw no insignia. The men moved through the property toward Swofford’s position. Swofford shouted “Halt.” The flashlights swung toward him.

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