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The City of Tallahassee has decided to delay releasing the name of the officer who shot and killed Tony McDade, a black transgender man, last month.
After announcing last week that it would release the officer’s name, the city has now said it will release the name no earlier than Friday, and perhaps even later.
The city’s decision is intended to give the Florida Police Benevolent Association time to appeal a decision last week by Leon County Circuit Judge Charles Dodson, who refused to grant a PBA-requested injunction that would have kept the officer’s identity concealed.
In its motion, the Florida PBA argued that the officer was “the victim of an aggravated assault with a deadly weapon,” and thus deserved to have his identity protected under Marsy’s Law, a 2018 state constitutional amendment adopted by voters that conceals the identity of crime victims.
But Dodson said he couldn’t make a ruling based on the evidence provided, saying the matter raised constitutional issues and that Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody’s office would have to be consulted to interpret whether the law’s protections would extend to the officer, reports ABC affiliate WTXL.
“The City of Tallahassee has been notified of the PBA’s intent to file a motion this week related to Marsy’s Law,” the City said in a statement. “With respect for the legal process, the City has agreed to respect the PBA’s effort to seek a court ruling to determine if a police officer is exempt under the victim’s rights state constitutional amendment.”
According to police, McDade, 38, allegedly stabbed 21-year-old Malik Jackson to death in an act of retaliation after he was attacked by a group of five men because of his gender identity.
Police were called to the scene and provided with a description of a person matching McDade. They encountered McDade, who was carrying a gun, close to the crime scene, at which point McDade allegedly pointed the gun at the officer, who discharged his firearm, killing McDade.
In a court hearing before Dodson last week, PBA attorney Stephen Webster described the officer’s actions as “absolutely, defensible, understandable and predictable acts of self-defense,” citing a video McDade posted to his Facebook page in which he talked about retaliating against those who attacked him and even raised the possibility that he would enter a standoff with police. But the city has argued that the officer, who is under investigation, cannot be both the accused and the victim in the case.
Jennifer Fennell, a spokesperson for Marsy’s Law for Florida, issued a statement regarding the question of whether a member of law enforcement can be covered by the law’s protections.
“Police officers who have become victims of crime deserve the same constitutional rights as everyone else. But police officers who have committed crimes cannot hide behind Marsy’s Law,” Fennell said. “Marsy’s Law grants constitutional rights to all victims of crime, in the same way that all persons accused of a crime in Florida have constitutional rights. Victim status in Florida is granted to all victims of crime, without discrimination.
“The Florida Constitution does not distinguish victim status between members of the public and police officers, so any citizen can be a victim of a crime, even if they are a public employee. However, the Marsy’s Law provision of the constitution is clear when it says that the accused cannot also be a victim,” Fennell added. “If a determination is made that a police officer has broken the law in the case, they become a defendant in that case and as such they automatically lose all their rights as a victim under the Marsy’s Law provision of the Florida Constitution and their name must be released.”
Local demonstrators — who are among hundreds of thousands of people across the nation taking to the streets to protest systemic racism, racial profiling, and police brutality following the death of George Floyd, a man killed after a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck — have invoked McDade’s name as one of the victims of excessive force by police directed against individuals of color.
They have also called on Tallahassee Police Chief Lawrence Revell to resign and for the police department to release body camera footage of the shooting. The department has not said whether such footage exists, according to PBS affiliate WGCU.
“You’re expected to serve and protect us, yet you consider yourself to be a victim,” Delilah Pierre, a member of the Tallahassee Community Action Committee, said, criticizing the PBA’s legal arguments. “You don’t use the money taxpayers give you to do something important and relevant to this community. You’re no victim.”
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