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Sarasota sheriff: Agency only trying to follow state, federal rules amid Marsy's Law issue

A judge granted the Sarasota Herald-Tribune the right to name two deputies involved in a deadly April shooting. The state Supreme Court is considering the law now.

SARASOTA, Fla. — A judge on Monday granted the motion to dissolve a temporary emergency injunction that stopped a local newspaper from publishing the names of two deputies involved in the fatal shooting of a Black man named Jeremiah Evans on April 1.

Sarasota County Sheriff Kurt Hoffman spoke to the media Wednesday about the outcome of the judge's decision. He said with how confined of a space the two deputies were in with Evans, they are considered "victims of aggravated assault," which he says should be covered under Marsy's Law.

Marsy's Law in Florida shields the identities of those impacted by crimes. Some law enforcement agencies have argued that officers, too, can be considered victims. The state Supreme Court is weighing the issue involving a case between the Tallahassee Police Department and the city of Tallahassee.

The two deputies went to execute an eviction at a residence on Palm Avenue where they said Evans had been squatting and refused to leave after the owner died. The sheriff's office claimed Evans lunged toward the deputies with a knife and a taser was deployed. The taser was unable to subdue Evans, authorities said, hence the fatal shot was fired.

According to court documents, Judge Charles E. Williams ruled that the Sarasota Herald-Tribune obtained the names of the deputies lawfully and the fatal shooting of Evans is a matter of public concern as it relates to releasing the deputies' names. 

The Sarasota County Sheriff's Office contended that the release of the deputies' names would cause "irreparable harm," and the two have a right to confidentiality under Marsy's Law. However, the court found that due to the State Attorney's Office inadvertently releasing the deputies' names the temporary injunction, in this case, is an "unconstitutional prior restraint that must be dissolved," according to court records.

The deputies identified as "DOE 1" and "DOE 2" are protected under Marsy's Law, the agency argued, but a reporter from the Herald-Tribune attempted to verify and seek further information about the last name that was included in one of the memos obtained through a public record request to the State Attorney's Office.

According to the officials, the memo was inadvertently sent without proper redactions. But the Herald's position was that the documents in question are public records, whether redacted or not, were obtained legally and should not fall under the protection of Marsy's Law.

Hoffman said the sheriff's office wasn't trying to not be transparent with the public or only protect the deputies, but it was trying to follow Florida and federal constitutions. He added that he wanted to make sure there was no lawsuit that came about.

The sheriff also said that looking back at the situation between the deputies and Evans, he can't say the sheriff's office would've done anything different than what occurred.

   

Hoffman earlier on Monday released a statement in response to the ruling. 

"The court has ruled that in this scenario, the identity of our deputy is not protected," the sheriff said, in part. "I greatly respect Judge Williams, and we will abide by his ruling." 

He continued, "Although two organizations reported our action in this case indicated a lack of transparency, it was instead based on a good faith belief that Florida Constitution protected all victims of crime, regardless of an inadvertent disclosure of third party."

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