The Miami-Dade Police Department has no plans to release the name of the officer who shot and partially paralyzed a 15-year-old Black teenager after a car chase earlier this month, thanks to a Florida’s version of Marsy’s Law.
The law, which 12 states have some version of, is meant to protect the victims of crimes, partly by allowing them to keep their identities secret. But Florida’s version extends that protection to law enforcement in the aftermath of a shooting or use of force, allowing them to skirt accountability and public scrutiny.
Miami-Dade police say the 15-year-old teen was driving a stolen Dodge Challenger after midnight on Jan. 16. At least two other teenagers were in the car, according to the Miami Herald.
Officers had noticed the stolen vehicle from a bulletin put out by a neighboring law enforcement agency in Miramar, Florida. When they attempted to pull the car over, however, they say the car refused to stop, prompting a chase.
After crashing the car into a fence, the occupants made a run for it. The 15-year-old, who was armed with a firearm, according to police, hopped out of the car’s driver side seat and ran from police on foot. The officer pursuing him confronted the teen, though police haven’t specified how, before firing his weapon. The 15-year-old was struck in the back of the neck, the attorney for the teen’s family told the Miami Herald, leaving him partially paralyzed from the neck down.
“An officer can only use deadly force when he’s in fear of bodily injury or death,” attorney Jarlens Princilis told the local paper. “I don’t see that present when a teenager who is only 100 pounds is trying to run away from an officer. We don’t think the shooting is justified.”
The teen has been recovering from his injuries at Jackson Memorial Hospital, according to the Miami Herald. He’s been charged with possession of a firearm and resisting an officer without violence. He’s also facing additional charges for skipping two court appearances last year in relation to an attempted robbery and burglary.
The Miami-Dade Police Department did not immediately respond to VICE News’ request for comment.
While the teen’s identity was revealed by police almost immediately, the department has revealed almost nothing about the officer who shot him for almost two weeks, except that he’s a 29-year-old sergeant who’s white. On Thursday, the Miami Herald reported that the officer would be using Marsy’s law to keep his identity a secret.
Marsy’s Law was originally meant to protect the victims of crimes by keeping them in the know about the person who committed a crime against them. As part of that, the victim can opt to keep their own information from being released to the public to preserve their safety.
That intent, however, has been a double-edged sword as implemented in the state of Florida. Since its adoption through a 2018 voter referendum on the state Constitution, police have been able to use it to shield their identities in the aftermath of a shooting or use of force. They say it’s necessary for officers who can be threatened either by the defendant or the public as well as to be protected from the possibility of retaliatory crimes.
“I don’t think this is what it was intended to be at all when the law was being advocated for,” Virginia Hamrick, staff attorney for the First Amendment Foundation, told VICE News. “There are protections for law enforcement officers in Florida already. Their home addresses are exempt from public record, anything that could be used to find where they live, the names of their spouses and the locations of their workplace.”
In reality, however, cops can use Marsy’s law to skirt accountability and public scrutiny, according to Hamrick, by preventing the public from knowing whether an officer in question has committed a similar act before or whether they’re facing disciplinary consequences.
“It just withholds so much information that leaves the public in the dark about their public officers who are paid for by local and state money,” Hamrick said. “It also just leads to a lack of trust and strains their relationship with the community when you don’t know who your officers are and what they are doing.”
In 2020, at least half of Florida’s 30 largest law enforcement agencies said they use Marsy’s Law to keep officer identities confidential, according to an investigation by ProPublica and USA Today.
In December, a Boynton Beach police officer who briefly chased a 13-year-old boy illegally riding a dirt bike invoked Marsy’s law after the boy died in a crash during the pursuit. Last October, two officers who shot and killed a 16-year-old in Tarpon Springs also used the lawand never had their identities revealed to the public before an investigation concluded their actions were justified.
How the officer involved in the Boynton Beach incident used Marsy’s Law, for example, is the broadest so far, according to Hamrick. It’s part of the reason Florida’s Supreme Court agreed to rule on whether police officers should be able to apply the state law as they have. The court is expected to hear the case sometime later this year.
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