Jeff Burlew by Tallahassee Democrat
April 6, 2021
In a major decision that could have sweeping implications in police use-of-force cases, a Florida appellate court ruled that Marsy’s Law privacy protections apply to law enforcement officers.
A three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal on Tuesday unanimously reversed an earlier decision by Leon Circuit Judge Charles Dodson that on-duty officers are not afforded protection under Marsy’s Law, a state constitutional amendment that grants privacy rights to crime victims.
The ruling sprang from the explosive case of Tony McDade, a Black transgender man who was shot and killed last May 27 by an officer with the Tallahassee Police Department. McDade was killed moments after fatally stabbing the son of a next-door neighbor.
The decision was a legal defeat for the city, which planned to publicly identify the officer who killed McDade, and the Tallahassee Democrat and other news organizations that intervened to force release of the officer’s name.
“Today’s decision was an unfortunate setback for police accountability,” said Mark Caramanica, a Tampa lawyer representing news organizations. “We respectfully disagree with the court’s reasoning and are considering our options.”
After McDade’s death, the Florida Police Benevolent Association sued the city of Tallahassee to block release of the officer’s name, along with the name of another officer involved in a separate case.
The police union argued that the officers were themselves victims of aggravated assaults by the armed suspects they killed and thus qualified for anonymity under Marsy’s Law. The appellate court agreed in its 13-page ruling.
“We reverse the trial court’s order directing the city to disclose public records that would reveal the identities of the two officers,” said the opinion by Judges Robert Long, Timothy Osterhaus and Lori Rowe.