Names of Police Officers Involved in Defensive Shooting of Suspects Aren’t Public Records – Reason.com

In two separate encounters, crime suspects threatened Tallahassee police officers with deadly force. Faced with the imminent threat of harm, the officers responded in kind, resulting in fatalities. Following the encounters, the City of Tallahassee revealed its intent to disclose the identities of the police officers to the public.

The officers and their registered bargaining representative, the Florida Police Benevolent Association, Inc. (collectively, Appellants), opposed public disclosure of the officers’ identities and sought a declaration from the trial court that the officers were entitled to the protections granted crime victims under article I, section 16 of the Florida Constitution. Appellants also asked the court to enjoin the City from disclosing any personal information that could be used to identify or locate the officers.

But the trial court determined that the protections afforded crime victims under article I, section 16 were unavailable to law enforcement officers even when a crime suspect threatened an officer with deadly force. And the court found that even if the officers were crime victims, their names were not entitled to confidential treatment. Appellants challenge the trial court’s ruling. We reverse.

[I.] Background

The Tallahassee Police Department employs two police officers who were involved in separate encounters with crime suspects that ended with fatalities. The first encounter occurred after the police officer responded to a report of an aggravated battery. The battery victim reported that the suspect was armed with knives, which he brandished during the attack on the victim. When the officer arrived on the scene, he saw the suspect hiding behind bushes. The suspect, who was standing between ten and fifteen feet away from the officer, threatened to kill the officer, waved a large hunting-style knife at the officer, and then rushed toward him. In response to the imminent threat, the officer shot the suspect while trying to retreat. The suspect died from the gunshot wounds.

The second encounter occurred when the police officer responded to a report of a stabbing in which the suspect fled the scene with a gun and a knife. The officer encountered the suspect leaning into the passenger window of a parked SUV. A woman then leapt from the SUV toward another police vehicle, pleading for help. Next, the suspect moved toward the officer, assumed a shooting stance, and pointed a gun at the officer. Fearing for his life, the officer exited his vehicle and shot the suspect. The suspect continued to reach for his gun. Right after the shooting, bystanders began threatening the officer, causing him to fear for his safety. The suspect later died from the gunshot wounds….

[II.] Analysis …

Article I, section 24(a) [of the Florida Constitution] describes the broad right to inspect or copy public records in Florida:

Every person has the right to inspect or copy any public record made or received in connection with the official business of any public body, officer, or employee of the state, or persons acting on their behalf, except with respect to records exempted under this section or specifically made confidential by this Constitution.

By its express terms, article I, section 24(a) does not provide that all public records are subject to disclosure. Rather, the text acknowledges the right of the people of Florida to amend their constitution to grant confidentiality for public records ordinarily subject to disclosure. And article I, section 24(c) allows the Legislature, by a two-thirds vote of each house, to exempt public records from the disclosure requirements under article I, section 24(a).

The express purpose of Article I, section 16 is “to preserve and protect” certain rights of crime victims. A crime victim is “a person who suffers direct or threatened physical, psychological, or financial harm as a result of the commission or attempted commission of a crime or delinquent act or against whom the crime or delinquent act is committed.” A police officer meets the definition of a crime victim under article I, section 16 when a crime suspect threatens the officer with deadly force, placing the officer in fear for his life.

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.”

Even so, the trial court determined that extending the protections for crime victims under article I, section 16 to law enforcement officers threatened with harm by crime suspects would thwart the purpose of article I, section 24(a) by shielding law enforcement officers from public scrutiny of their official actions. The trial court found that public records related to the actions of a law enforcement officer acting in his official capacity could not be treated as confidential under article I, section 16 when the officer is a crime victim. But in reaching this conclusion, the trial court carved out an exception from article I, section 16 for law enforcement officers—one that would apply equally to all of Florida’s state and local government employees, numbering over one million….

Nothing in article I, section 16 excludes law enforcement officers—or other government employees—from the protections granted crime victims. And no language in either article I, section 16 or article I, section 24(a) suggests that public records related to government employees ordinarily subject to disclosure are not entitled to confidential treatment under article I, section 16 when a government employee becomes a crime victim.

This does not mean that the public cannot hold law enforcement officers accountable for any misconduct. Maintaining confidential information about a law enforcement officer who is a crime victim would not halt an internal affairs investigation nor impede any grand jury proceedings. Nor would it prevent a state attorney from reviewing the facts and considering whether the officer was a victim. If a prosecutor determines that the officer was not a victim and instead charges the officer for his conduct, then the officer would forfeit the protections under article I, section 16. See Art. I, § 16(e), Fla. Const. (excluding an accused from the definition of a victim)….

[H]owever compelling the public policy considerations may be in favoring broad public records disclosure and the ability of the public to access records of the machinery of government, it is not the province of the judiciary to read into the language of the constitutional text anything not included or to limit the text in a manner not supported by its plain language. “Our role is not to make or amend the law.” Rather, if the people of Florida wish to exclude law enforcement officers or other government employees from the protections of article I, section 16, multiple avenues for amending or revising the constitution are available….

The trial court found that even if the law enforcement officers were crime victims, they were not entitled to the protections under article I, section 16 for two reasons. First, a criminal proceeding is required before the protections of article I, section 16 apply…. [But] article I, section 16(b) provid[es] that “every victim is entitled to the enumerated rights, beginning at the time of his or her victimization.” See also L.T. v. State (Fla. 1st DCA 2020). And nothing in article I, section 16 says that a criminal proceeding needs to commence before a crime victim is entitled to the protections offered under the law….

Second, the trial court determined that the officers’ names were not entitled to confidential treatment under article I, section 16(b)(5)[, which states,] … “The right to prevent the disclosure of 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.”

Contrary to the trial court’s conclusion, “information … that could be used to locate or harass the victim or the victim’s family” includes records that could reveal the victim’s name or identity. This construction of article I, section 16 aligns with other provisions of Florida law that treat as confidential records that could reveal a victim’s identity. For example, the Florida Legislature exempted from disclosure public records that could reveal the names of certain crime victims…. With multiple online search resources available to seek out information about individuals when the person’s name is known, a crime victim’s name is the key that opens the door to locating the victim.

Thanks to Prof. Eric Freedman (Hofstra) for the pointer.



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White House defensive over poll numbers amid border crisis

White House press secretary Jen Psaki was forced to defend the Biden administration Monday as it faces plummeting poll numbers on it’s handling of the bourgeoning migrant crisis.

Speaking to reporters during a White House press briefing, Psaki was pressed about an Associated Press-NORC poll which found that 40 percent of Americans disapprove of how Biden is responding to the border situation, while just 24 percent approve.

Thirty-five percent did not have an opinion.​

“If I read the poll correctly it also had 59 percent of Americans believing that unaccompanied children should be treated safely and be protected in that way, and 65 percent supported the reunification of families,” Psaki began.

“His focus right now is on expediting processing at the border, opening up additional facilities, addressing the root causes and restarting programs to incentivize the kids from applying from within their countries,” she continued.

The White House chief spokeswoman went on to say that it was inaccurate to argue that more Americans were not in favor of the administration’s response, despite that being what the poll showed, because of the nearly one-third who had no opinion.

The president was not focusing on the poll, Psaki said, instead giving his attention to ensuring that “we are protecting these kids. We are continuing to reassert to the region the border is not open.”

A group of migrants rest on a gazebo at a park after they were expelled from the U.S. and pushed by Mexican authorities off an area where they had been stayin,
A group of migrants rest on a gazebo at a park after they were expelled from the U.S. and pushed by Mexican authorities off an area where they had been staying
AP

Asked about preliminary data from Customs and Border Protection which showed that US authorities caught more than 171,000 migrants at the southern border in March, the highest monthly total in two decades, Psaki said final numbers would paint a fuller picture.

That fuller picture, she explained, would show the number of migrants being turned away as well.

The 171,000 figure marks a staggering jump from the 78,442 migrants who crossed the border in January, when President Biden first took office.

The Biden administration’s undoing of former President Donald Trump’s border policies has prompted a flood of Central American and Mexican illegal migrants at the US border, including thousands of unescorted children.

Central Americans looking for refuge from the Northern Triangle countries — El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala — have taken these policy moves, as well as the overwhelmingly more welcoming tone from Democrats, as a sign that this president is inviting them to cross the border.

Insisting that the border was not facing a crisis, Mayorkas said in early March that the problems the agency faced should be blamed on the previous administration.

Detainees in a Customs and Border Protection temporary overflow facility in Donna, Texas
Detainees in a Customs and Border Protection temporary overflow facility in Donna, Texas
AP

The data, however, overwhelmingly shows that migrants were flooding the border because they believed Biden would welcome them with open arms.

Late last month, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador blamed the new president for the crisis, arguing that the “expectations” he set left migrants with the perception that they would be let into the US.

While Psaki said they were committed to handling the crisis humanely, the administration has come under fire for its holding of unaccompanied minors in overcrowded Customs and Border Protection facilities for well over the 72-hour legal limit.

A migrant woman cries as she talks on a cellphone at a park after she and a large group of migrants who were expelled from the U.S. were pushed by Mexican authorities off an area they had been staying after their expulsion
A migrant woman cries as she talks on a cellphone at a park after she and a large group of migrants who were expelled from the U.S. were pushed by Mexican authorities off an area they had been staying after their expulsion
AP

Facilities to house migrant children and families in numerous border states have become overrun in recent months as a result of the surge — which shows no sign of slowing down.

In an interview with Reuters last week, Oscar Escamilla, the acting executive officer for the Border Patrol in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, said the migrant processing center in Donna, Texas, is holding 4,100 migrants, and most of them are unaccompanied – four times its pre-coronavirus pandemic capacity.

He added that 2,000 of the minors have been held longer than the 72-hour limit and some of them have been in the facility for more than 15 days while they await placement in shelters overseen by the Department of Health and Human Services.



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Matt Gaetz pens defensive op-ed, says DC is like ‘the mafia’

Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz said he’s “absolutely not resigning” as he blamed his twisted sexual misconduct scandal on his “political opponents” in a new op-ed that also compares Washington, DC to the “mafia.”

“Yes, just like the mafia, the D.C. swamp protects its [sic] ‘made men.’ Since I’m taking my turn under the gun, let me address the allegations against me directly,” Gaetz wrote in the op-ed, published Monday by the Washington Examiner. “First, I have never, ever paid for sex. And second, I, as an adult man, have not slept with a 17-year-old.”

Calling himself a “better man today than I was years ago,” the Republican lawmaker went on to say that while “my lifestyle of yesteryear may be different from how I live now … it was not and is not illegal.” 

Gaetz, 38, remained defiant in the face of mounting allegations against him — including federal probes into whether he paid for sex with women, including a 17-year-old girl.

“And no, I am absolutely not resigning,” he vowed in the piece, adding that he won’t be “intimidated or extorted” into doing so. 

“The battle for America’s future demands gladiators, and I am going to keep getting back up and fighting, every single day,” the Florida rep wrote. 

Rep. Matt Gaetz at the Capitol building on February 5, 2021.
Rep. Matt Gaetz at the Capitol building on February 5, 2021.
Graeme Sloan via AP Images

Last week, news broke that Gaetz is under investigation by the Department of Justice for allegedly paying a 17-year-old for sex and enticing her to travel, which violates federal sex trafficking laws, allegations the lawmaker has repeatedly denied. 

Since then, he’s been accused of a series of misdeeds, including that he used to show naked pictures of women he slept with to fellow lawmakers and that he played a Harry Potter-themed “sex challenge” where points would be awarded for various romps. 

In the op-ed, Gaetz compared himself to former President Donald Trump, Justice Brett Kavanaugh and late Sen. John McCain, saying the “bizarre” allegations against him are a product of his brash legislative style and his decision to take on powerful figures in DC. 

“Folks won’t be surprised that bizarre claims are being made about me shortly after I decided to take on the most powerful institutions in the Beltway: the establishment; the FBI; the Biden Justice Department; the Cheney political dynasty; even the Justice Department under Trump,” Gaetz wrote.

“It comes as no surprise that my political opponents want to sensationalize and criminalize my prior sex life just as I am getting engaged to the best person I’ve ever known. It is regrettable that the battle of ideas should thus become so personal. But then again, when your ideas suck, you need to stoop this low.” 

Rep. Matt Gaetz speaking with supporters during CPAC in Orlando, Florida on February 27, 2021.
Rep. Matt Gaetz speaking with supporters during CPAC in Orlando, Florida on February 27, 2021.
Jabin Botsford via Getty Images

Gaetz concluded the piece by cryptically suggesting the allegations he’s facing aren’t really about him at all.

“You’ll see more ‘drip, drip, drip’ of leaks into the media from the corrupt Justice Department and others. When you do, ask yourself why. They aren’t coming for me — they are coming for you,” he wrote. 

“I’m just in the way.” 



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