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Florida Appeals Court Grants Officers Involved in Shootings Privacy Protections Under Marsy’s Law

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  • A Florida appeals court sided with a local police union Tuesday, ruling that a state constitutional amendment known as Marsy’s Law can shield the identities of officers who shoot suspects if the officers are threatened during those incidents — an argument often made in police shootings.
  • Marsy’s Law grants privacy protections to victims of crimes, and a trial court previously sided with the city of Tallahassee and media, saying it could not interpret the law “to shield police officers from public scrutiny of their official actions.”
  • Lawyers representing the media called the new ruling a “setback for police accountability.”
  • The appeals court, however, argued that privacy protections would not stop an internal affairs investigation, grand jury proceedings, or stop a state attorney from later deciding that an officer was not a victim in a specific case.

Case That Lead To Appeals Court Ruling

Florida’s 1st District Court of Appeals unanimously decided Tuesday that municipalities cannot make the names of officers who shoot citizens public if the officers themselves were crime victims.

According to Axios, that is almost always the argued case in police shootings.

The ruling stems from a case involving two Tallahassee officers who fatally shot a suspect in separate incidents. Florida’s Police Benevolent Association, the police union representing the two officers, argued in a lawsuit that the city shouldn’t release any information that would personally identify them as the shooters.

They cited Florida’s 2018 constitution amendment, called Marsy’s Law, which grants privacy rights to crime victims. They argued that the amendment applied to these officers because they were allegedly threatened in these use-of-force incidents.

The city and news media, however, argued that the documents identifying the two officers were public records under the Florida constitution. They also argued that officers acting in their official capacities cannot be victims.

The trial court had sided with the city and media, saying that the court “cannot interpret Marsy’s Law to shield police officers from public scrutiny of their official actions.”

It also added that the language of the law was not intended to apply to officers acting in their official capacity.

The police union appealed that ruling and the three-judge panel of the appeals court unanimously sided with the officers, saying that Marsay’s Law does not exclude “law enforcement officers … from the protections granted crime victims.”

Because of this, the judges said an officer who is a victim has the right to keep confidential, “information or records that could be used to locate or harass the victim or the victim’s family, or which could disclose confidential or privileged information of the victim.”

What Does This Mean for Police Accountability?

The judges said that keeping an officer’s identity private wouldn’t stop an internal affairs investigation or a grand jury proceeding. It also wouldn’t stop a state attorney from later deciding the officer was not a victim and bringing charges.

Still, a lawyer representing media organization issued a statement criticizing the ruling.

“Today’s decision was an unfortunate setback for police accountability. We respectfully disagree with the court’s reasoning and are considering our options,” Tampa lawyer Mark Caramanica said in a prepared statement.

See what others are saying: (News4) (Tampa Bay Times) (RawStory)

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Texas Doctor Says He Violated Abortion Law, Opening Matter Up for Litigation

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Under the state’s new law, any citizen could sue the doctor, which would make the matter the first known test case of the restrictive policy.


Dr. Braid’s Op-Ed

A Texas doctor revealed in an op-ed published in The Washington Post Saturday that he performed an abortion in violation of the state’s law that bans the procedure after six weeks, before most people know they are pregnant.

The law, which is the most restrictive in the country and does not have exceptions for rape and incest, also allows civilians to sue anyone who helps someone receive an abortion after six weeks.

In the op-ed, Dr. Alan Braid, who has been practicing as an OB/GYN in Texas for 45 years, said that just days after the law took effect, he gave an abortion to a woman who was still in her first trimester but already beyond the state’s new limit.

“I acted because I had a duty of care to this patient, as I do for all patients, and because she has a fundamental right to receive this care,” he wrote. “I fully understood that there could be legal consequences — but I wanted to make sure that Texas didn’t get away with its bid to prevent this blatantly unconstitutional law from being tested.”

Braid went on to say that he understands he is taking a personal risk but that he believes it is worth it.

“I have daughters, granddaughters and nieces,” he concluded. “I believe abortion is an essential part of health care. I have spent the past 50 years treating and helping patients. I can’t just sit back and watch us return to 1972.”

Potential Litigation

If someone does opt to sue Braid over this matter, he could potentially be the state’s first test case in playing out the legal process. However, it is unclear if anti-abortion groups will follow through, despite their threats to enforce the law.

A spokesperson for Texas Right to Life, which set up a website to report people suspected of violating the ban, told reporters this weekend that it is looking into Braid’s claims but added, “It definitely seems like a legal stunt and we are looking into whether it is more than that.”

Even if abortion opponents hold off on Braid’s case, there are other legal challenges to the Texas law.

Shortly after the policy took effect, the Department of Justice filed a lawsuit attempting to stop it. Last week, the department filed an emergency motion asking a federal judge in the state to temporarily block the ban while that legal battle plays out, with a hearing for that motion set for Oct. 1.

Regardless of what side the federal judge rules for, the other is all but ensured to sue, and that fight could take the question to the Supreme Court in a matter of months.

See what others are saying: (NPR) (The Texas Tribune) (The Wall Street Journal)

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Pfizer Says Low Dose of COVID-19 Vaccine Is Safe and Effective in Kids 5 to 11

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Pfizer Says Kids’ Vaccine Works

Pfizer announced Monday morning that its joint COVID-19 vaccine with BioNTech is safe and effective in kids ages 5 to 11.

While Pfizer’s vaccine candidate for younger children is the same version the FDA has already approved for people 12 and older, the children’s dose is only one-third of the amount given to adults and teens. Still, Pfizer said the antibody response they’ve seen in kids has been comparable to the response seen in older participants.

Similarly, the company said side effects in children have been similar to those witnessed in adults. 

Pfizer said it expects to finish submitting data, which still needs to be peer-reviewed and then published, to the FDA by the end of the month. From there, the agency will ensure that Pfizer’s findings are accurate and that the vaccine will be able to elicit a strong immune response in kids at its current one-third dosage. 

That process could take weeks or even all of October, but it does open the possibility that the vaccine candidate could be approved around Halloween.

Overeager Parents

While experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, have called Pfizer’s announcement largely predictable, they’ve also urged people to let the research run its course. 

With cases among children skyrocketing in recent months, some parents have begun urging pediatricians to give their children the jab early. Those kinds of requests are likely to increase with Pfizer’s announcement; however, officials have warned parents about acting too quickly.

“No one should really be freelancing — they should wait for the appropriate approval and recommendations to decide how best to manage their own children’s circumstances,” Bill Gruber, Pfizer’s senior vice president of vaccine clinical research and development, said according to The Washington Post. 

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (Axios)

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Contradicting Studies Leave Biden’s COVID-19 Booster Plan Up in the Air

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While some studies show that the effectiveness of Pfizer and Moderna’s COVID vaccines decrease over time, other publications argue the decline is not substantial and a full-flung booster campaign is premature.


Booster Rollout in Flux

President Joe Biden’s plan to offer COVID-19 booster shots is facing serious hurdles just a week before it is set to roll out. Issues with the plan stem from growing divisions among the scientific community over the necessity of a third jab.

The timing of booster shots administration has been a point of contention for months, but the debate intensified in August when Biden announced that, pending regulatory approval, the government would start offering boosters on Sept. 20 to adults eight months after they received their second dose of Pfizer or Moderna.

The announcement was backed by the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the acting commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and White House chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci, among others.

However, many scientists and other health experts both inside and outside of the government have continually criticized the plan. They have claimed the data supporting boosters was not compelling and argued that, while the FDA approved third doses for immunocompromised Americans, the push to give them to the general public was premature.

The plan also drew international backlash from those who argued the U.S. should not launch a booster campaign when billions of people around the world have not gotten their first dose yet. Earlier this month, the World Health Organization (WHO) extended its request that wealthy countries hold off on giving boosters until at least the end of the year.

Those arguments appeared to be bolstered when federal health regulators said earlier this month that they needed more time to review Moderna’s application for booster shots, forcing the Biden Administration to delay offering third shots to those who received that vaccine.

Now, Pfizer recipients will be the only people who may be eligible for boosters by the initial deadline, though that depends on a forthcoming decision from an FDA expert advisory committee that is set to vote Friday on whether or not to recommend approval.

Debate Continues in Crucial Week

More contradictory information has been coming out in the days leading up to the highly anticipated decision.

On Monday, an international group of 18 scientists, including some at the FDA and the WHO, published a review in The Lancet arguing that there is no credible data to show the vaccines’ ability to prevent severe disease declined substantially over time, so boosters are not yet needed for the general, non-immunocompromised public.

The experts claimed that any advantage boosters may provide does not outweigh the benefit of giving the extra doses to all those who are unvaccinated worldwide. 

On the other side, a study released Wednesday in The New England Journal of Medicine found that people who received a third shot of Pfizer in Israel were much less likely to develop severe COVID than those who just had the first two jabs.

The same day, both Pfizer and Moderna published data backing that up as well. Pfizer released an analysis that said data on boosters and the Delta variant from both Israel and the U.S. suggested “that vaccine protection against COVID-19 infection wanes approximately 6 to 8 months following the second dose.” 

Moderna also published data, that has not yet been peer-reviewed, which also found its jab provided less immunity and protection against severe disease as time went on.

Further complicating matters was the fact that the FDA additionally released its report on Pfizer’s analysis of the need for a booster shortly after Pfizer’s publication. Normally, those findings would shine a light on the agency’s stance on the issue, but the regulator did not take a clear stand.

“Some observational studies have suggested declining efficacy of [Pfizer] over time […] while others have not,” the agency wrote. “Overall, data indicate that currently US-licensed or authorized COVID-19 vaccines still afford protection against severe COVID-19 disease and death.”

Uncertain Future

It remains unclear what the FDA panel will determine when they meet Friday, or what a similar CDC expert panel that is expected to meet next week will decide regarding vaccination policies.

Notably, officials at the two agencies are not required to follow the recommendations of their expert panels, though they usually do.

Even if the FDA approves Pfizer’s application as it stands to give boosters to those 16 and older, people familiar with the matter said the CDC might recommend the third jabs only for people 65 and older or those who are especially at risk.

Regardless of what is decided, experts have said that it is absolutely essential for the agency to stand firm in its decision and clearly explain its reasoning to the public in order to combat further confusion and misinformation.

“F.D.A. does the best in situations when there are strongly held but conflicting views, when they’re forthcoming with the data and really explain decisions,” Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, a vice dean at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health told The New York Times. “It’s important for the F.D.A. not to say, ‘Here’s our decision, mic drop. It’s much better for them to say, ‘Here’s how we looked at the data, here are the conclusions we made from the data, and here’s why we’re making the conclusions.’”

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CNBC) (The Guardian)

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