The 1st District Court of Appeals in Florida ruled Tuesday that officers can protect their identity after the use of fatal force.
The appellate court ruled that a law meant to protect the identity of a victim from the public applies to an officer when they are threatened with deadly force.
“A police officer meets the definition of a crime victim ... when a crime suspect threatens the officer with deadly force, placing the officer in fear for his life,” the court ruled.
The ruling overturns a decision made by the Leon County Trial Court that said an officer does not have the same right to privacy as other crime victims since the officer’s name is “vital for the public’s ability to evaluate” the officer and the investigation, Florida outlet Local 10 reported.
Both rulings centered around police shootings that killed two people — Wilbon Woodard, who was armed with a knife, and Tony McDade, who was armed with a gun. Both men were killed in Tallahassee in May, according to the news source.
“The officers do not seek protection from the would-be accuseds, instead they apparently seek protection from possible retribution for their on-duty actions from unknown persons in the community,” Leon County Circuit Court Judge Charles Dodson ruled at the time. “This type of protection is outside the scope of Marsy’s Law.”
The appeals court reversed that decision and said an officer’s name withheld from the public “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,” the court document says, according to Local 10.
If the officer is not determined to be a victim, their name can be released, according to the appellate court ruling.
The Florida Police Benevolent Association (PBA), which was a party in the appeal, praised the decision from the court.
“This is precedent-setting law in Florida, which no other court has ruled on,” Florida PBA attorney Stephanie Dobson Webster said. “Moving forward, the Florida PBA will continue to protect our members’ legal rights whenever they are challenged and we will vigorously pursue their defense as far as we can go.”