TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – A state appeals court in Tallahassee issued a unanimous decision Tuesday that provides police officers the same kind of privacy protections that victims receive under Marsy’s Law.
The three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal sided with the law enforcement union, the Florida Police Benevolent Association, that represented two Tallahassee police officers who used deadly force on the job.
One of the officers was the victim of an aggravated assault before shooting a Black transgender Man last May in a case that drew national attention.
“That the officer acts in self-defense to that threat does not defeat the officer’s status as a crime victim. And thus as a crime victim, such an officer has the right to keep confidential ‘information or records that could be used to locate or harass the victim or the victim’s family, or which could disclose confidential or privileged information of the victim,’” Judge Lori Rowe wrote in a 13-page decision.
A Leon County trial judge previously ruled in July that Marsy’s law does not apply to law enforcement officers “acting in their official capacity.”
“Just because someone where’s a badge doesn’t mean they can’t be a victim, doesn’t mean they aren’t,” said Danny Alvarez, the spokesperson for the Tampa Police Benevolent Association.
Alvarez said the court’s decision will not prevent a public inquiry or further investigation of police shootings.
“Grand juries can still be called if there’s any suspicion of wrongdoing as well as internal affairs investigations,” Alvarez said. “Those safety control measures continue on and we’re pretty happy about the outcome in this case.”
The Tallahassee First Amendment Foundation and other media outlets joined this case in response to the Tallahassee Police Department’s refusal to respond to public records requests about the officers’ identities.
The FAF argues the appellate court ruling takes Florida in the wrong direction on police accountability as the world is watching the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis Police Office charged in the death of George Floyd.
Hillsborough County’s State Attorney Andrew Warren told 8 On Your Side he is disappointed by the decision and said Florida law enforcement agencies should not shield the names of officers in use of deadly force cases.
“At a certain time the officer goes from being a victim in the case to being a law enforcement officer again who is using force against a citizen in the community and to make sure that we are rebuilding trust with the community and being transparent, I think its important law enforcement agencies are willing to release the names of those officers,” Warren said.
Tampa Attorney Mark Caramanica is representing the news outlets in this case that pits privacy protections for police officers against the public’s right to know.
“Yesterday’s decision was an unfortunate setback for police accountability. We respectfully disagree with the court’s reasoning and are considering our options,” said Caramanica.