TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The Florida Supreme Court is considering a case that will decide whether police officers who use deadly force can remain anonymous under a law designed to protect crime victims.
The court heard short oral arguments Wednesday in the trial between the city of Tallahassee and the Florida Police Benevolent Association.
The case hinges on whether Marsy’s Law, which allows crime victims or their families to request their names be withheld from public documents, can apply to police officers who use lethal force while under attack.
The legal dispute is tied to separate incidents in 2020 where police in Tallahassee killed armed people who threatened officers with deadly force. A grand jury declined to indict the officers.
The police union asserted that the officers were effectively crime victims threatened by armed suspects and therefore their names could not be released under Marsy's Law. The union sued Tallahassee when the city moved to release the names.
An attorney for the city told the supreme court justices Wednesday that the officers were acting in their official capacity as agents of the government, not as individuals, and could not be deemed crime victims under Marsy's Law.
A group of news organizations has also joined the city in the case, arguing that shielding officer names would weaken public accountability of government and police.
“One of the biggest fears I have about this case is that depending on how it comes out, we could have a situation in which police encounters escape media attention,” Philip J. Padovano, an attorney representing Tallahassee, told reporters after the hearing.
Luke Newman, a lawyer representing the union, argued that the officers did fall under the protections of the law and that the city was moving to create a carve-out for police.
“This is a request for an after-the-fact, ad hoc exception,” he said.
Marsy’s Law was approved by voters under an amendment to Florida’s constitution and has similar counterparts in several other states.
It is unclear when the court will rule in the case.