By ELAINE ALLEN-EMRICH

Community News Editor

ENGLEWOOD — Law enforcement agencies across Florida have released the names of officers involved in five separate shootings since the beginning of June. None of these agencies cited the state’s new Marsy’s Law to protect the officers’ identities.

However, in Charlotte County, Sheriff Bill Prummell has refused to name the two deputies who fired at Englewood businessman Bradley Rundle on June 24. Prummell withheld names of all deputies who responded to the 61-year-old’s home that night.

Although Rundle died, Prummell is using the new Marsy’s Law, created to protect rape and domestic violence victims, as blanket protection of the identity of all deputies involved, classifying them all as “victims” of Rundle’s assault that night.

Rules changed

After each of the four past deputy-involved shootings in Charlotte County from 2016-2018, Prummell quickly held a press conference. He told the condition of the deputies and gave details including the number of shots fired and other information that would not compromise the sheriff’s office’s investigations. In most cases, the names of the deputies were released within a few days of the incidents.

On June 25, Prummell canceled a planned news conference about the Rundle shooting. Instead he issued a statement. The release said Rundle was armed and fired a shot at deputies after being told multiple times to put down his firearm. Prummell said the deputy’s names were withheld so they could decompress, which was protocol.

Later, CCSO spokesperson Katie Heck said the department was reviewing if the deputies qualified as victims under Marsy’s Law. Less than 24 hours later, Prummell said the deputies’ names would not be released to the public. Heck cites a provision in Marsy’s Law that says the victims have, “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.”

The Sun asked to interview Sheriff Prummell for this story, but CCSO officials said he was unavailable this week.

Differing interpretations

Barbara Petersen, who helped write the Florida in the Sunshine manual and is the president of the First Amendment Foundation, said Marsy’s Law has created “chaos and confusion” for police and the public since it has gone into effect in January, 2019. It was an amendment to Florida’s Constitution that voters passed in 2018.

“How do we hold law enforcement accountable?” Petersen said. “Are we going to start having secret trials, crime victims testifying behind curtains? The provision is a disservice to crime victims in Florida. Law makers must clarify the language so it doesn’t conflict with Florida’s broad public records access laws.

“Until law makers pass a bill that creates the exemption and defines what this means, I don’t think law enforcement can rely on this very vague constitutional provision,” she said. “Some law enforcement agencies want to be sued so they can get clarification.”

Petersen said the Florida public records law already protects officers and first responder’s personal information from public record requests. Personal information is routinely redacted from officers’ personnel files, including home addresses, private numbers and other information that could help someone find an officer.

Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation, tried to fix the language, adding that law enforcement officers would not be considered victims if they were involved incidents during work. Since no State House companion bill was filed, no action was taken on the bill.

Other departments

While the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office has not released the names, other agencies around Florida have done the opposite in recent weeks, according to news reports:

• On June 6, Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey said deputy Paul Phillips responded to a disturbance about feral cats. He asked Erik Gebauer to leave. Gebauer became uncooperative and agitated, so Phillips called for backup. Phillips lost sight of Gebauer, who walked behind a vehicle. Phillips heard a round being chambered into a firearm while he was walking toward Gebauer. Reports said the two then engaged in a gunfight, with both Phillips and Gebauer being shot. In a press conference, Ivey said Phillips expended an entire magazine full of rounds, reloaded and re-engaged Gebauer. Phillips was hit three times and then pulled to safety by a neighbor while Gebauer died of his wounds.

Phillips has been employed by the Sheriff’s Office since November 2018. The combat veteran served in the United States Army for 14 years during which he was deployed to Iraq on two tours of duty, Ivey reported.

• According to Clearwater Police, on June 8, officers were called out to a disturbance for a man waving a gun in the area of a crowd. Two officers found Bryan Bernard Wallace, 39, and tried to speak to him. A gun fell from his waistband. As he reached for it, officers told him to stop. In fear for their own safety and the safety of others, officers Justin Buis, and Michael Diaz then fired their weapons. Wallace died at Morton Plant Hospital. Both officers were with the Clearwater Police Department for a year.

• In Jacksonville, gunfire erupted June 14 after two men robbed a couple near a Foot Locker store. According to police reports, two Jacksonville Sheriff’s officers spotted the suspects in the parking lot of the Foot Locker. Armed with a .38-caliber pistol, one of the suspects fired six shots, but didn’t hurt the pair. The men fled. Police confronted the two men in the parking lot. One man surrendered and the other fled. Shortly after, an officer fired his police-issued rifle eight times, striking the suspect multiple times. The wounded man was taken to UF Health Jacksonville where he was in stable condition.

The officer who shot the man is K.L. Semones, a three-year sheriff’s officer. It was his first officer-involved shooting, according to the police department. Neither Semones nor any other officers were injured.

• On June 27, Springfield Police, Florida Highway Patrol troopers, and a Bay County Sheriff’s Office deputy, all went to an apartment where a woman was heard yelling for help. Springfield Police Sgt. Kenneth Crawford opened the door and saw a man who raised a pistol. Springfield Police Chief Barry Roberts told reporters Crawford’s training and 11 years of experience led him to believe his life was in danger and fired at the man, shooting him three times. Lifesaving measures were taken to save the man, but he died.

• On July 2, Port St. Lucie Police officers responded to a domestic disturbance at the home of 67-year-old Ben Fields who told the 911 operator had a knife and was thinking about killing his wife. According to news reports, officers repeatedly demanded he drop the knife, but he refused. Port St. Lucie Police Chief John Bolduc said Fields walked toward officers who were forced to fire one shot each, hitting Fields. He was transported to a local hospital where he died. The officers weren’t hurt. Bolduc held a press conference announcing both officers were doing well under the circumstances. They were Peter Chunn, a 13-year veteran of the Port St. Lucie Police Department, and Dylan Krecic, who had only been with the department for about a month.

Email: eallen@sun-herald.com

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