Florida Law Outlaws Video of Deaths in Police Custody

In May 2011, Governor Rick Scott signed into law HB411, criminalizing the broadcast and distribution of beatings and death in police custody. The law states that “Any custodian of a photograph or video or audio recording that depicts or records the killing of a person who willfully and knowingly violates this section [prohibits viewing, copying or listening] commits a felony of the third degree”

The law makes an exception for “a surviving spouse of the decedent may view and copy any such photograph or video recording or listen to or copy any such audio recording. If there is no surviving spouse, then the surviving parents shall have access to such records.”

The impacts of this law had immediate effects as the case of Eric Perez has gone largely unnoticed by the public. Perez died July 10, 2011 in a juvenile detention center in West Palm Beach, Florida. There is a video tape of his encounter with guards who are said to have dropped him on his head as they suspected him taking snacks back to his holding cell. The video has not been released, even to his mother despite her rights to the evidence. A grand jury declined to press charges in the case, claiming no Florida law was applicable in this case.

The Sun Sentinel reported, “The grand jury found that Perez died after suffering two hits to his head, but five medical experts were unable to determine if Perez’s cerebral hemorrhage was caused by the blows to the head or if immediate medical help would have saved his life.”

The irony here is that viewing a tape of a murder is a felony but the act of killing a teenager while in police custody is somehow beyond the law because there is no statute on the books that addresses the issue of neglect of detainees when in juvenile detention centers. This is the kind of “thru the looking-glass” reasoning that has put Florida on the “insanity tourism” map and led to systematic injustice against the poor and minorities.

Only in Florida do teenagers get cerebral hemorrhages out of the blue. This is the first of many cases that will go unnoticed because the Governor and the Florida legislature have managed to create new ways to hide police abuse.

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