Floridian Tests ‘Police Privacy Statute’

TALLAHASSEE (CN) – A man says the City of Tallahassee arrested and prosecuted him twice – fruitlessly – for publishing a police officer’s address in the online forum Ratemycop.com. Robert Brayshaw challenges the constitutionality of a “police privacy statute,” and says the officer’s address already was available on the county clerk’s Web site.

     Brayshaw says the police privacy statute should be repealed. It states: “Any person who maliciously … publishes or disseminates the residence address or telephone number of any law enforcement officer while designating the officer as such, without authorization of the agency which employs the officer, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor of the first degree.”
     In the federal complaint, Brayshaw’s ACLU attorneys say his right to post comments about Officer Annette Garrett is protected by the First Amendment and that because the Tallahassee officer’s address was already posted on the county clerk’s Web site, Brayshaw’s efforts to disseminate information about her are all the more protected.
     A string of disparaging remarks about the officer on “ratemycop.com” sparked her initial outrage. While the posts cite Garrett’s alleged pattern of abusive and aggressive behavior, the forum participants are anonymous and can resubmit opinions under different user names. There is one verifiable abuse of process complaint filed against Officer Garrett in Leon County Circuit Court.
     In his own comments on the Web site, Brayshaw characterizes Officer Garrett as being “verbally abusive” and unprofessional, pointing to his 2007 arrest in a trespassing case that was dismissed. He posted the officer’s home address, cell phone number, and age.
     Brayshaw says he was arrested one month later for violating the privacy statute, and though the state dropped the charges, they were refiled.
     “Having been arrested and prosecuted twice for publishing truthful information that was already publicly available, [Brayshaw] has refrained from exercising that right for fear of arrest and prosecution,” the complaint states.
     Brayshaw is represented by Anne Swerlick. He seeks no monetary damages, only a declaration of his right to continue posting information about the officer.

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