Victims’ Rights Bill Used to Hide Public Records | EDITORIAL

Contrary to popular opinion, government agencies have the capacity for ingenuity. Too bad it seems like they deploy it most often when trying to avoid releasing public documents.

Consider what happened recently in Florida. In April, a Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office deputy shot and killed a man during an eviction attempt. The deceased man refused to leave the property. Police said he was armed with a knife and came after the deputies. Prosecutors later determined the shooting was justified.

The Sarasota Herald-Tribune, a local newspaper, did exactly what a news agency should do. He dug deeper into the story. Via a public records request to the state’s attorney’s office, he obtained the names of the officers involved in the shooting.

Before the newspaper published the names of the officers, however, the police department rushed to court. Earlier this month he won a temporary injunction barring the newspaper from releasing the names of the officers.

The police department’s rationale should get Nevadans’ attention. In 2018, Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment granting certain rights to victims of crime. It was called Marsy’s Law. This name should ring a bell to the people of Nevada. In 2018, Nevada voters also enshrined a version of Marsy’s Law in our state’s constitution.

In Florida, the constitutional amendment states that “a ‘victim’ is a person who suffers direct or threatened physical, psychological, or financial harm as a result of the commission or attempted commission of a crime.” Additionally, victims have the “right to prevent the disclosure of information or records that could be used to locate or harass the victim.”

Given the circumstances, Florida police consider its officers to be “victims,” entitled to privacy. Florida law contains no exemptions for police or other government officials. Unfortunately, neither does the one in Nevada. To their credit, Nevada law enforcement agencies, like the Las Vegas Metro, always release the names of officers involved in shootings.

This is why the Review-Journal opposed Marsy’s Laws in 2018.

“Good intentions alone, however, rarely create wise public policy,” our editorial said. “In fact, this proposal is complicated, confusing and could actually undermine certain provisions of the Bill of Rights. It could also subvert open government and accountability. After the Marsy Act was passed in South Dakota, for example, police stopped telling the public where crimes had been committed under the guise of protecting victims’ rights.

These concerns are more valid than ever, and the legislature must begin the process of addressing this issue when it meets next year.