Police skeptical of state attorney's new human rights division

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Just over two months after Melissa Nelson took over as state attorney for Duval, Clay and Nassau counties, she has created a Human Rights Division to investigate excessive police force and human rights violations. But not everyone thinks it's a good idea.

While a civil rights group said this is something has been needed for a long time, the police union is not sure that this will protect officers, and could be used against them.

Controversial police shootings and beatings caught on camera have put Jacksonville and its police department in the spotlight, and is one of the reasons Nelson gave for implementing the division to look closely at those and other concerns, including human trafficking, elderly abuse and hate crimes.

"All of this information in the past was overlooked covered up and swept by the previous state attorney and administration," said Ben Frazier of the Northside Coalition. "We are hoping that this is the beginning of a new era as it relates to truth (and) justice in the policy of, honesty, being best."

But it’s something that worries the police union.

"Although the Fraternal Order of Police still has some disagreements with Mrs. Nelson regarding several aspects of the unit, we have been assured that the rights of our members will be honored," the FOP said in a statement.

Nelson is confident everyone will be treated fairly.

"I have full faith and confidence in every attorney in this office to continue their dedicated work in protecting our community," Nelson said in a statement. “Most of the work will focus on human trafficking and elder abuse, two rapidly increasing crimes in Florida."

News4Jax crime and safety analyst Gil Smith, who retired from the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, understands why officers would be worried.

"They also see that the person who is going to be the head of this division is someone who seems to side with anti-police sentiment," Smith said.

Attorney John Phillips, who has handled many high-profile civil rights cases, including one where Myra Martinez was beaten by an officer while she was handcuffed outside of the jail, said this new unit is a step in the right direction.

"Having prosecutors that are more unbiased, looking not to find a way to justify an officer subjectively and objectively look at the officer's act for itself is a great thing," Phillips said.

Phillips said he plans to file a federal lawsuit next week on behalf of Martinez.

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