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City of Tallahassee v. Florida Police Benevolent Association, Inc.

Post categories

  1. Freedom of Information

Court: Florida Supreme Court

Date Filed: March 20, 2022

Background: In May 2020, a Tallahassee police officer shot and killed Tony McDade, a Black transgender man. After the shooting, the Florida Police Benevolent Association sued the city of Tallahassee to prevent the release of the names of two officers, including the officer suspected of shooting McDade.

The police union claimed that McDade threatened the officers with a gun — a claim some witnesses reportedly dispute — and argued that the officers’ identities should be protected under Marsy’s Law, a Florida constitutional amendment that protects the privacy of crime victims. This case is the first major challenge to the amendment, which was passed in 2018.

In July 2020, a trial court ruled in favor of the city, finding that the language of Marsy’s Law should not be applied to law enforcement officers acting in their official capacity. The police union appealed, and the appeals court reversed the lower court’s decision, criticizing the judge for carving out an exemption to Marsy’s Law.

The city of Tallahassee then appealed to the Florida Supreme Court.

Our Position: The Florida Supreme Court should reverse the appeals court’s decision and require the release of the officers’ names.

  • The police union’s expansive interpretation of Marsy’s Law exceeds the intended scope of protection for crime victims and conflicts with Florida law.
  • Press and public access to law enforcement records is constitutionally mandated and the public has a compelling interest in overseeing the use of police power.
  • The police union’s interpretation of Marsy’s Law, if accepted by this court, would lead to absurd and unintended results.

Quote: “[U]nlike your average public citizen, law enforcement officers are in a unique position of power and responsibility — they have access to a wealth of information and government resources, and can utilize numerous platforms to amplify their voice and exert power in the criminal justice system. The misuse of Marsy’s Law prevents the public from effectively reviewing police actions, and thwarts efforts to hold officers accountable for misconduct.”

Related: In 2021, the Reporters Committee filed friend-of-the-court briefs urging the New Jersey Supreme Court to order the release of records concerning law enforcement misconduct in two separate cases: Libertarians for Transparent Government v. Cumberland County and Rivera v. Union County Prosecutor’s Office. In March 2022, the state Supreme Court issued back-to-back rulings in favor of transparency in both cases, affirming the public’s right to access law enforcement records. To learn more about the two rulings, check out our blog post.