JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The very last slide of a Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office training course on Florida’s Marsy’s Law has triggered a lawsuit against the agency.
Marsy’s Law is Florida’s Bill of Rights for Victims. Marsy’s Law has been passed in several states and provides protections for victims, including the right to have their names excluded from public police reports and documents.
But, according to the training slide, officers with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office can’t invoke Marsy’s Law protections in the course of their official duty.
The Fraternal Order of Police, the union that represents officers, is suing the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office to challenge the policy.
The attorney for Jacksonville’s Fraternal Order of Police said the constitutional right in Florida should be afforded to everyone, including officers.
“Every individual should be afforded the same rights. I think we can all agree on that,” said Phillip Vogelsang, general counsel for the Fraternal Order of Police.
The question of officers being able to shield their names from public disclosure when assaulted or threatened in the course of their jobs under Marsy’s Law has come before a Florida court before.
In July, following a Tallahassee officer shooting and killing Tony McDade, the Florida Police Benevolent Association sued the City of Tallahassee to prevent disclosure of the name of the officer who pulled the trigger.
Judge Charles Dodson ruled against the Florida Police Benevolent Association, writing in his court order that Marsy’s Law enforcement officers acting in their official capacity are not protected by Marsy’s Law.
“The court finds that the explicit language of Marsy’s Law was not intended to apply to Marsy’s Law enforcement officers when acting in their official capacity,” said Dodson in his order.
Susan Bandes is an Emeritus Centennial Distinguished Professor of Law at DePaul College of Law known as a scholar in the areas of federal jurisdiction, criminal procedure and civil rights. Bandes says she believes Judge Dodson’s order was appropriate given the special powers given to the police.
“They have powers that private citizens don’t have. They have the unique power to use force, and even deadly force, they have the power to arrest people. When they go on private property, they’re not trespassing. So, they’re not standing in the shoes of private victims here. So, I don’t think it really is very logical to treat them like victims, and there are a lot of really important reasons not to allow them to be anonymous here,” said Bandes.
“You know, in layman’s terms, the United States does not really like the idea of secret police. And that’s really what we’re arguing - that they should not be anonymous while they’re conducting, you know, their public duties,” she added.
Vogelsang said transparency is not an issue he hears from other agencies that have allowed for officers to conceal their names under Marsy’s Law.
“That hasn’t been an issue expressed to me by several other agencies that allow Marsy’s Law protection. I’ve spoken to dozens of agencies that allow it for their officers and there’s never been an issue with transparency, so to speak. It’s the same with any other case that anybody’s a victim of the case is still reported the case still goes through the court system. So, it really doesn’t affect the transparency,” said Vogelsang.
Judge Dodson’s ruling that police officers are not protected under Marsy’s Law was appealed by the Florida Police Benevolent Association and his order has been halted. The name of the officer who killed McDade has still not been released as a result.
In Jacksonville, the city and Jacksonville Fraternal Order of Police are waiting for the judge’s ruling.