Justice Opinion

My thoughts about the justice stories that are hitting the headlines -- with a focus on stories about race, guns, and self-defense. Find out where I stand.

Justice Outreach

This is the platform for our justice advocacy efforts, currently focused on the Talking Race Project, The Hurt Words Project, and Juvenile Outreach. Find out what we’re up to.

Justice Education

I frequently conduct CLEs and seminars for Bar Associations, Criminal Defense Associations, the National Trial Lawyers, and law schools. Find out what I’m talking about.

RESPONSE TO SHERIFF AL ST LAWRENCE'S PRESS RELEASE

Written by Mark O'Mara on . Posted in Ajibade

Regret is defined as a feeling of sorrow or remorse for an act. Regret is hollow if it doesn’t carry any action with it. Mathew's family and friends demand more than Sheriff Al St. Lawrence’s deep regret, we demand his action.

We know the Sheriff contacted Georgia Bureau of Investigation, that was mandatory.The concern we have is that it was thirteen weeks ago. We know from recent events in Baltimore that an investigation, when intended to occur with velocity, can in fact occur with velocity. The GBI will be held to task for why it took them 120 days to investigate a death caused in one location by a group of known individuals with a known result. His family, his friends and all citizens of Savannah care less about "possible policy violations that may have occurred" than they do about what happened to Mathew, and why.

While we appreciate the Sheriff's suggestion that he has fully cooperated with GBI, he has failed to act with human decency and integrity by denying his family any sense of closure or the respect we deserve as we continue to mourn Mathew's death, still in ignorance of how it happened.

If, as he stated, the Sheriff has made changes requiring better safeguards for those who suffer from mental health illness and has further modified his security cross-checks for the failing that resulted in Mathew's death, why will he not disclose those changes? Are they not public? Only in this way might he begin the process necessary to re-instill any sense of trust in a facility that is housing, injuring or killing many of Savannah’s citizens. The day of hiding behind the opaque curtain of "ongoing investigation" must come to an end. If law enforcement desires to regain the trust of the citizens they are meant to protect, then transparency must prevail, and shrouds of secrecy and darkness perpetrated by undisclosed investigations must cease.

We have filed a public records request to review the policy changes referenced in the Sheriff's press release»

Would a Police Body Camera Have Saved Walter Scott?

Written by Mark O'Mara on . Posted in Opinion

I'm haunted by the video of Officer Michael Slager firing eight shots at Walter Scott as he fled his encounter with North Charleston police -- his back turned to the officer. What I find more disturbing is how the officer cuffs the fallen Scott and allows him to die face-down in the dirt while Slager appears to plant an item next to his body.

Throughout the entire encounter with Scott, it's clear Slager had no idea someone was filming him. Had he known there would be video of his every move, would he have drawn his weapon on a fleeing man? Would he have fired? Eight times? Would he have misrepresented the encounter on his police report?

Of course not. If Slager had been wearing a body camera, Scott would probably still be alive, and Slager wouldn't be facing the possibility of life in prison -- or a possible death sentence.

Body cameras are expensive to deploy, sure. And storing the massive amounts of data that body cameras create costs even more. That cost, however -- if we're talking the monetary kind -- may be eclipsed by the punitive damages delivered to Scott's family in an inevitable civil suit against the North Charleston Police Department. Most importantly, we have to ask ourselves this: What's the value of a human life? Certainly it's worth the price of some mass data storage.

Orange County Race and Justice Panel

Written by Mark O'Mara on . Posted in Outreach

panel line up

Last week, I participated in a panel discussion about race and justice in Central Florida. Moderated by the Honorable Judge Faye Allen, the panel included Major Vereen from the Orange County Sheriff’s office, state senator Gary Siplin, Orlando Police Chief John Mina, state attorney Jeff Ashton, and criminal defense attorneys Alisia Adamson and Louis Calderon.

Judge Allen asked each of the panelists how the criminal justice system in Central Florida rates in regards to treatment of African Americans. Both law representatives of law enforcement gave our system a rating of “fair.” I agreed, and I suggest that unless everyone involved in the criminal justice system admits that there is a bias in the system, we won’t be able to fix it. One practical way to instill trust is to fund and utilize body cameras. Daytona Beach P.D. has had them for a couple of years, and use of force incidents have dropped, as well as complaints against cops. There has even been an increase in pleas to criminal events which were recorded, which saves an enormous amount of funds.

Below are some highlights from the discussion:

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