JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The City of Tallahassee along with several media organizations will ask the Florida Supreme Court to review an April 6 appellate court ruling that allows police officers to shield their names from the public if they are assaulted or threatened while on duty.
The protections under Marsy’s Law would extend to instances where officers used force and shootings where people are killed by police.
Last week, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office blurred the faces of its officers and referred to them as “Officer 1″ and “Officer 2″ when it released the body-worn camera footage from the incident that led to the shooting death of 32-year-old Michael Hughes.
Previously, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office policy did not allow officers to elect Marsy’s Law, according to a spokesman for the agency. In a statement, the spokesman said, “as of this ruling, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office has changed its policy.”
The April 6 ruling stems from a fatal shooting last May in Tallahassee where two officers, referred to as “John Doe” and “John Doe 2,” shot and killed Tony McDade, a black transgender man.
The Florida Police Benevolent Society sued the City of Tallahassee to block the release of the officers’ names and the name of an officer involved in a separate case. The union argued the officers’ identities were protected under Marsy’s Law, a constitutional amendment approved by voters to protect the personal information of crime victims.
A Leon County Circuit judge ruled July 24 that the unnamed Tallahassee police officer who killed McDade, and another officer involved in a separate deadly force case, are not shielded by Marsy’s Law. But a unanimous ruling this month by the First District Court of Appeals, a three-judge panel, reversed the decision.
“With respect for the Court’s opinion and appreciation of the difficult work performed by police officers every day, the decision has far-reaching implications related to public transparency and is deserving of final review by Florida’s highest court,” Tallahassee’s city attorney said Tuesday in a statement.
A collection of media agencies calling themselves the Media Coalition intervened during arguments in the circuit court and plan to join the city’s appeal to the Florida Supreme Court. It includes the Florida Press Association, Gannett, Miami Herald Media Company and the New York Times.
Daniela B. Abratt is one of the attorneys representing the Media Coalition in its appeal.
“Unfortunately, it has a pretty big impact on the rights of the public to understand what goes on with law enforcement, the rights of the media as a surrogate for the public to explore that and investigate,” said Abratt.
Since the April 6 ruling, law enforcement agencies across Florida have adopted new procedures when it comes to releasing officers’ names, including the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.
In February 2020, JSO was sued by the Jacksonville Fraternal Order of Police over its policy of not allowing officers to use Marsy’s Law protections. The suit did not argue on behalf of any specific officer. The lawsuit was later dismissed.
Phillip Vogelsang represented the Fraternal Order of Police Jacksonville in its lawsuit.
“If it is overturned at the Florida Supreme Court, we fully respect and support that decision. But we feel like this is a correct application of the law as it was phrased, stated and passed by the citizens of the state of Florida,” Vogelsang said. “We’re hoping that the Florida Supreme Court affirms that Tallahassee decision.”