Race and Justice Panel at the FACDL 2015 Annual Conference

Written by Mark O'Mara on . Posted in Outreach

The Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is hosting a panel discussion on Race and the Criminal Justice System. I’ll be joining a distinguished panel moderated by Miami attorney David Rothman. The panel will include:

Marlene Sallo, the Acting Chief of Public Affairs for the United States Commission on Civil Rights;

Don Lemon, noted journalist and anchor of CNN Tonight;

Daryl Parks, prominent civil rights attorney who gained national recognition as an advocate for the family of Trayvon Martin; and

Charles Olgetree, esteemed Harvard law professor and founder of the school’s Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice.

The discussion is part of the FACDL’s 28th Annual Meeting. It will begin at 11:25 AM on Saturday, June 13th at THE RITZ-CARLTON, KEY BISCAYNE. I hope to see many of you there.


Written by Mark O'Mara on . Posted in Advocacy

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.