Our Position: Law enforcement officers continue to expand the definition and usage of Marsy’s Law to deny the public and media information.
Marsy’s Law strikes again.
A law that originated to protect family members from suspects in violent crimes has morphed into a tool used by law enforcement in several states to protect the names of officers.
The law, which became an amendment to the Florida constitution after ballot approval, basically says anyone who is a victim of violence can have their name stricken from public record. That public record includes police reports.
So far, just in Charlotte County, the Sheriff’s Office has used the law to shield the names of two officers who fatally shot and killed Bradley Dean Rundle, a 61-year-old businessman, at his Englewood home last year.
We have written about the Rundle shooting extensively. Police reports indicate he was likely intoxicated when they responded to a call from family members at the home. When he waved a gun at police officers, they opened fire.
The State Attorney’s Office cleared the police of any wrongdoing. But the names of the two officers who fired off dozens of rounds have never been released.
Again, on Feb. 6, two police officers pulled over a car in the parking lot of Hooters in Port Charlotte at 1:30 a.m. A Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office internal report said when they approached the vehicle, a 37-year-old man raised his gun and fired a shot. The deputies retreated, but one fired about six rounds at the suspect, striking him three times and killing him.
No word on the deputies’ names.
Then, later this year a man traveling southbound on Interstate 75 in North Port was shot several times by a passing car and died at the scene. His name was never released.
And most recently, the Florida Highway Patrol has taken up using Marsy’s Law as a reason to not give the names or detailed information about victims in car wrecks. Or, in one Port Charlotte case the name of a man who was run over and killed with his dog.
The man was hit by a motorist May 8 while waiting in the median of U.S. 41. After a few days, FHP released the name of the driver who hit the man. We still don’t know who was killed.
A similar tragedy happened Saturday in Laurel, with a driver — who reportedly had the green light — struck and killed a bicyclist who was crossing on a red pedestrian light.
But no names in the event were released.
Could it have been your neighbor? Is someone you know been missing for a while?
Maybe the next time you call a good friend you haven’t seen for a couple weeks you will learn he was run over by a car and killed on U.S. 41. By the way, you missed the funeral.
News organizations throughout Florida have pleaded with legislators to go back and fix Marsy’s Law. We don’t believe it was ever meant to protect the names of law enforcement officers who shoot and kill someone in the line of duty. Nor do we believe it was meant to deny the public information about traffic crashes — including in this most recent case the type of car the driver was in or the driver’s hometown, age, etc.
“We want legislators to take up this law and give us some clarification,” Andres “A-Rod” Rodriguez, administrative director for the CCSO, told reporters a few months ago.
We do too.
With the pandemic wreaking havoc on the state budget we don’t expect this to be a priority any time soon. But it needs to be addressed. The public has a right to know and police officers must be held accountable for their actions — even when they have done nothing wrong.