WLRN by Daniel Rivero
June 15, 2021
As many parts of the country move towards increased police accountability, after the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis, Florida is quickly moving in the opposite direction.
It wasn’t a direct decision by lawmakers or the governor that made this reality but a long-term consequence for a poorly-understood, and well-funded, ballot amendment that was overwhelmingly approved by voters in 2018.
That amendment, known as “Marsy’s Law,” created a broad “right to prevent disclosure of information” for anyone considered a victim of crime.
In a high-profile court case, that could soon end up before the Florida Supreme Court, the names of officers involved in two separate fatal police shootings in Tallahassee have been blocked from release thanks to that provision. The two men shot and killed by police were Tony McDade, a Black trans man who was a suspect in a murder that took place just before the shooting, and Wilbon Cleveland Woodard, a Black man.
Officers in both cases assert they were threatened with deadly force before the fatal shootings, making them victims.
Under Marsy’s Law, the police union successfully prevented the officers’ names from being released.
“It just allows law enforcement officers to go around without any accountability. And it just makes it harder for public oversight of policing and specifically deadly force,” said Virginia Hamrick, a staff attorney at the First Amendment Foundation of Florida, which is a party in the lawsuit.
The decision to block the names of officers from being released was made in April, by a unanimous three-judge panel in the First District Court of Appeals. Judge Lori Rowe found the officers were victims, writing in the opinion: “That the officer acts in self-defense to that threat does not defeat the officer’s status as a crime victim.”
Previously, the Circuit Court for Leon County ruled that the names should be released, since Marsy’s Law “was not intended to apply to law enforcement officers when acting in their official capacity.”
The appeals court ruling alarms government transparency advocates, activists and some members of the law enforcement community alike.[Read More]