TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – First Amendment and journalism groups want to weigh in if the Florida Supreme Court takes up a case that could help shield the identities of law enforcement officers involved in use-of-force incidents.
The Joseph L. Brechner Center for Freedom of Information at the University of Florida, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the Society of Professional Journalists filed a notice Friday of their intent to submit a friend-of-the-court brief if the Supreme Court agrees to hear the case, which involves application of a 2018 constitutional amendment known as Marsy’s Law.
The constitutional amendment bolstered victims’ rights, and a three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal ruled last month that privacy protections in Marsy’s Law can apply to two Tallahassee police officers. Those officers argued they were victims because they were threatened in incidents that resulted in use of force. One of the incidents drew national attention, as an officer identified in court documents as “John Doe 2” shot a Black transgender man, Natosha “Tony” McDade, in May 2020. Because the police officer was the victim of an aggravated assault with a deadly weapon in the incident, he contends he had the right under Marsy’s Law to prevent release of his name.
The city of Tallahassee filed a notice May 4 that was a first step in challenging the appeals-court ruling at the Supreme Court.
In Friday’s notice, the First Amendment and journalism groups said they want to back the city’s challenge and that the outcome of the case “could have broad implications not only for the news media but also for any person seeking access to records held by law enforcement agencies across Florida and implications for people who are interested in crime and law enforcement’s response, subjects that are always of great public concern.”
Last week, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri and the Miami Civilian Investigative Panel, which is a police oversight board, also gave notice that they want to file friend-of-the court briefs backing the challenge to the appeals-court ruling. But attorneys for the Tallahassee police officers and the Florida Police Benevolent Association asked the Supreme Court to strike Gualtieri’s notice, saying it was improperly “argumentative.”