by Jo Ellen Nott
The officer who shot a teenager in the back of the neck leaving him paralyzed is having his identity protected by the Miami-Dade Police Department in an overreach of Marsy’s law used by at least half of Florida’s largest law enforcement agencies.
In a 2018 referendum vote, Floridians approved the addition to the state constitution of Marsy’s Law to protect the rights of crime victims. Many question whether the constitutional protections for crime victims extend to on-duty officers. The Florida Supreme Court will rule sometime in 2022 on whether police departments should be able to apply the state law to shield officers from accountability through transparency.
The shooting of Vito Corleone Vinisse on January 16 by an unnamed 29-year-old white sergeant in a northwest Miami neighborhood contains several inconsistencies. Circumstances of the incident that are in dispute include the identity of the driver of the car, whether the police pulled over the correct vehicle they had originally been searching for, and whether deadly force was justified when the 120-pound, 4’9” youth was running away from the police.
The shooting of Vinisse is not the first case of an officer’s identity being kept from the public in the aftermath of a shooting or use of force. One month before the Vinisse shooting, a Black 13-year-old stopping for gas in Boyton Beach, Florida, was chased by a police officer for alleged reckless driving. In the pursuit, the young man lost control of his dirt bike and collided with the median. When Stanley Davis, Jr. was ejected from the bike, he sustained mortal injuries.
After reviewing the surveillance video in the case, Dr. David Thomas, Professor of Forensic Studies at Florida Gulf Coast University and a former police officer, was appalled that an officer chased 13-year-old Davis under the circumstances. Thomas did not see just cause for the pursuit.
In another case, Alexander King, a 17-year-old white male was shot and killed by two Tarpon Springs police officers in October 2021, after receiving reports that a young man was aiming at passing vehicles with what was assumed to be an assault weapon. In this incident, the alleged assault weapon was an airsoft rifle.
In these cases, and many others, officers’ identities are being withheld from the public to shield them from public scrutiny. Law enforcement agencies claim they need to use Marsy’s Law to protect officers from being threatened by the defendant or the public or the possibility of retaliatory crimes.
Virginia Hamrick, attorney with the First Amendment Foundation, noted that police officers’ personal information such as address, name of spouse, and workplace location are exempt from public record. She believes law enforcement uses Marsy’s Law to avoid public scrutiny and evade accountability in controversial cases. Hamrick said to Vice News in January 2022 that invoking Marsy’s Law “leaves the public in the dark about their public officers who are paid for by local and state money [and] leads to a lack of trust and strains their relationship with the community.”
Sources: vice.com, dailymail.co.uk, wjhg.com, cbs12.com
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