About an hour before dawn on a February morning this year, Elton Bandoo was asleep in his room when he was suddenly awoken by a loud bang and the sound of the windows of his North Miami Beach home being shattered. "I think we're being robbed!” his mother shouted from the next room.
Startled, Bandoo says he jumped out of bed, grabbed one of his pistols, and ran to the back of the house, where the sounds seemed to come from. Outside, he would later tell police, he spotted a man climbing over his wooden fence in the darkness. Bandoo fired, hitting the man twice: once in the leg, and once in the arm.
That man turned out to be Lino Diaz, 47, a 18-year veteran of the North Miami Beach Police Department. Officers had surrounded the home to serve a federal search warrant related to an unemployment fraud investigation.
Diaz was released from a hospital a few days later. But for Bandoo, the incident marked the beginning of a legal saga that holds serious implications not only for his own life but for one of the most controversial laws in the nation: Florida’s notorious “Stand Your Ground” statute.
That law—which basically means that you don't have to retreat from a situation that is imminently dangerous to you or your family, and you can use deadly force to protect yourself if necessary—drew international scrutiny in 2012 after it was used to justify the shooting of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman. Florida was the first state to pass it in 2005; now, 22 states have Stand Your Ground laws in place, according to a 2013 report from the National Urban League, a nonpartisan civil-rights organization.
It will be the focal point of Bandoo's defense, his attorney told Fusion. He is charged with attempted first-degree murder on a law enforcement officer.
Bandoo, a 26-year-old with no previous criminal record, maintains that he had no way of knowing, in the confusion of a predawn raid, that the man he shot was a police officer. Only once–in a case last year in Texas—has Stand Your Ground been successfully invoked to defend the shooting of a police officer, the attorney who won that case told the Washington Post.
The case also calls into question the way police departments serve search warrants. According to the FBI's latest numbers, released last week, four police officers were killed during tactical situations similar to Bandoo's case in 2014.
"It's not even that my client had an arrest warrant out for him when this happened," said Bandoo's attorney, Seth LaVey.
"It was a search warrant. How could he have reasonably known that police were going to come crashing through his windows in the middle of the night?”
In statements given to police, Bandoo said that he thought he was protecting his family when he let off the shots. Police tell a different story, saying they "knocked three or four times" and announced themselves in a "loud and clear voice."
(The North Miami Beach Police Department declined to comment further for this article, saying: "It is not in the best interest of the department, or this active court case, for us to give comment at this time.")
Officers came prepared for the worst when they went to serve the search warrant at Bandoo's residence, they said shortly after the incident in February. But it was not because of any rap sheet—Bandoo didn’t have one.
Bandoo is a member of the NMB Stunnaz, a North Miami Beach hip hop group that has gotten some local radio play, and whose YouTube videos rack up tens of thousands of hits.
One of NMB Stunnaz' music videos—which was filmed at the scene of the shooting—features Bandoo rapping as his alias EB Da Iceman, waving guns at the camera. The song is called "Pull Out the Stick," the stick being an AK-47.
"Fuck with me, I'ma pull out the fire," Bandoo raps, an AK swinging in his arms.
“We’re aware of that video and we used it as part of our planning,” North Miami Beach police Major Kathy Katerman said at the time.
(This video contains graphic language.)
According to court documents, Bandoo got on police's radar for the suspected unemployment fraud scam after an informant told North Miami Beach police that he could name several people who were involved in financial crimes. In recent years, the city's police have uncovered many links between traditional street gangs and complex financial crimes.
But, the informant said, he could only name scammers through their Instagram accounts.
It was through one of these Instagram accounts—the now deleted "KidZoe305"— that police were led to Bandoo. "This is the known address of 'NMB STUNNAZ' member Elton Bandoo," reads an investigative report attached to the original search warrant. The report alleged Bandoo's IP address was linked to two fraudulent unemployment claims.
Scrolling through his feeds, police would have seen photos and videos of girls shaking their ass, sneakers, music production scenes, mixed in with pics of guns and plenty of weed.
The gun pics, all of which have now been deleted from the still active EBDAICEMAN account, would have been readily viewable by police. Bandoo's outsized online persona was successful, gaining him nearly 90,000 Twitter followers, over 15,000 on Instagram, and apparently, extra scrutiny from law enforcement.
But that's not all he was about. Bandoo is registered in Florida state records as the CEO and President of Major Currency Entertainment LLC, a promotions company that throws popular booty shaking competitions in local clubs. He graduated high school with a 3.5 average, and was focused on getting his music and promotions career on track, said attorney LaVey.
"This is a good kid. This is a kid who didn't even have a detention in high school," he told Miami's ABC affiliate just after the shooting took place.
"All of the videos with guns that my client has made were [filmed] in the backyard of the house. It's not like he's waving guns around public," LaVey told Fusion.
As Bandoo's bond hearing got started in April, police released photos of the guns they confiscated after the shooting to local media. Police seized about 30 weapons from his home, including high powered assault rifles, magazines and ammunition. Police used the weapons as a way to push the court for a $500,000 bond, which Bandoo was able to meet early this month, thanks to a wealthy aunt who is a bank executive in the Bahamas.
"Every single weapon in that house was legal," clarifies attorney LaVey.
"Mr. Bandoo even has a concealed weapons permit. There's not one charge relating to one firearm or piece of ammunition that was recovered from that house," he says.
"Nor will there be."
Florida's Stand Your Ground law presumes that the use of deadly force by a civilian is reasonable when guarding your home against an unknown intruder. There is, however, an exception carved out for when it's used against a law enforcement officer.
The exception makes the defense useless if the courts determine that the person "knew or reasonably should have known that the person entering or attempting to enter [a private home] was a law enforcement officer."
Bandoo and his legal defense team are planning to argue that in this case, there was no "reasonable" way to know it was officers, and not unknown intruders, who were breaking into his home.
The case will depend on the details of this timeline, which is not exactly clear at this moment. Court records show attorneys seek to interview over 50 people to get a sense of what happened that morning.
Police communications between the SWAT members show that only about 35 seconds passed between when officers first knocked on the door to when flash grenades were thrown through the windows, and a battering ram was slammed against the front door, LaVey says.
"In essence they're expecting Mr. Bandoo to wake up, get dressed, and come to the front door in 20 seconds or less," he says.
Plus, he adds, police only used the tactical vehicle's loudspeaker to announce themselves after shots were fired, citing police testimony at a bond hearing.
Though Bandoo has not been charged with any financial crimes stemming from the original search warrant, court records show that seventeen credit cards were confiscated during the original raid, along with several laptops, hard drives, iPads and towers. At a bond hearing, the lead detective in the case said police have recovered several sheets of paper containing people's names, Social Security numbers, and dates of birth.
The trial date for the case has not been set yet.
Richard Hornsby, an Orlando-area criminal lawyer who has broad experience with Stand Your Ground cases but has not been involved in this case, says that if Bandoo and LaVey can ultimately convince a jury that Bandoo awoke in a panic that his home was being robbed, he stands a good chance of winning the case.
However, he adds, the circumstances of this case call into question the entire methodology for how police serve these kinds of search warrants.
"Police do these late night, early morning raids thinking 'we're gonna catch him by surprise!'"
"But the reality is that in cases like this, saying 'we're catching him by surprise!' actually does a lot more for the defendant's case than it does for police," he says.
Daniel Rivero is a producer/reporter for Fusion who focuses on police and justice issues. He also skateboards, does a bunch of arts related things on his off time, and likes Cuban coffee.