Law Officer Mugshots Exempt From Media Release

Florida's public records law says those photos are exempt from release, but there's plenty of debate about that and plenty who wonder why an officer accused of a crime should be treated differently than any one else.

A Monticello police officer accused of scheming to get crack cocaine is sentenced to six months in jail. We caught Larry Bates on camera at his court hearing, but three other law enforcement officers recently arrested and accused of crimes have remained out of the public eye and off TV because Florida law says their home addresses, Social Security numbers and pictures are off limits.

David Murrell of the Florida Police Benevolent Association says, "When officers make arrests, sometimes people on the other side aren't happy campers and some would love to do retribution. They'd like to visit the officer's home and do whatever, so the Legislature has seen fit to have this safeguard for the officers."

David Murrell says even when officers are accused of crimes and fired they and their families deserve to be safe from retaliation, but Florida's First Amendment Foundation disagrees, at least when it comes to releasing the booking photos. Keeping those under wraps, it says, isn't fair, and only fuels talk of a double standard.

Barbara Peterson of the First Amendment Foundation says, "Whether they lose the protection of their home addresses would be an issue I'd like to see debated before the Legislature, but I see no reason to protect the photograph, particularly the mug shot, of a law enforcement officer who's been accused of a crime."

Recent court cases have sided with officers in their need for privacy and protection, so it may surprise you to learn that anyone can walk into the county clerk's office and find what we found. We looked up the names of three recently arrested officers. We found all three booking photos, two Social Security numbers and two Florida license IDs."

With the stroke of a few keys we found mug shots of Tallahassee Police OFC Keith Vergeson, accused of possessing child pornography. Leon County DEP Travis Sparkman, accused of kicking a child in handcuffs, and most recently Wakulla Correctional OFC Timothy Ford, who's accused of smuggling drugs to inmates.

All three have since been fired from their jobs. Both sides agree there are some holes in the exemption boat. While a law enforcement agency doesn't have to release officer photos, sometimes they are available from other sources.