Politics

'Stand Your Ground' Task Force May Need to Widen Focus

By: Jim Turner | Posted: May 2, 2012 3:55 AM
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Stand Your Ground Task Force meeting

Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, who sponsored the state’s Stand Your Ground law seven years ago, thinks the task force now assembled needs to expand its public-safety focus.

Baxley said the 19-member Citizens Safety and Protection Task Force needs to look beyond Florida Statute Chapter 776, the part of the state constitution that includes the Stand Your Ground provision.

“There might be other things we should be recommending,” Baxley said during a break in the task force’s first meeting on Tuesday. “We haven’t had any discussion yet about crime watch organizations. How do they operate? Are they working? We think they’re a large success for sure, but should there be parameters?

“We’re not just talking about a provision, we’re talking about a general condition of safety and protection for all of our citizens in Florida. Public safety is Job One,” Baxley said.

The mostly organizational meeting took place at the Florida Department of Transportation headquarters in Tallahassee. The majority of the nearly five-hour meeting was taken up by establishing a mission statement and determining when and where future meetings would be held across the state.

Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, who chairs the task force, said there are no preconceived outcomes. The task force was appointed by Gov. Rick Scott; House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park; Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Melbourne; and Attorney General Pam Bondi.

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The group was pieced together following a public outcry from the Feb. 26 shooting of Trayvon Martin by a neighborhood watchman who has claimed he acted in self-defense under the state’s Stand Your Ground law.

Before the committee agreed to hold its next meeting on June 12 in Sanford, Carroll said, “This task force is not here to try the Zimmerman-Martin case."

She said Florida has two other cases going on that fall under the Stand Your Ground law.

Those cases involve Trevor Dooley, who claimed self-defense when he shot a neighbor after struggling over a gun on a Valrico basketball court; and Marissa Alexander, a Jacksonville woman who now faces 20 years on three aggravated battery charges for firing a warning shot at her husband while his children were in the room.

“This law is not specific to any one area of our state or person, it can apply to any area of the state,” Carroll said.

Judge Krista Marx, of West Palm Beach, 15th Judicial Circuit, cautioned that without a narrow focus the task force would be opening “Pandora’s box.”

The committee didn’t take public comment on Tuesday, but will at its meeting in Sanford and other meetings planned for July 10 near DeSoto County, Sept. 12 in Miami Gardens, Sept. 13 in Palm Beach County, and in October in Pensacola.

Carroll noted that Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, whose own task force has made recommendations on the Stand Your Ground law, has been asked to make a presentation on his findings when the group meets in June.

Smith, whose task force recommended Stand Your Ground cases should be presented to a grand jury to determine what a reasonable person would do in that case and for more education of the law to both the public and law enforcement, on Tuesday questioned the makeup of the task force after making an appearance.

He noted the 19-member group includes three sitting state legislators who voted for the Stand Your Ground law in 2005; Carroll, who also voted for the law as a state House member; and a current state representative whose first bill was to prohibit doctors from inquiring if a patient owned a gun.

But while he called the panel “imperfect,” he said there are “good members,” such as Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle. Two members of Smith’s task force serve under Rundle.

“It’s got some political appointees on there, but I hope they take a legal agenda and really look at the law and look at how the law is being used and misused,” Smith said.

Because of the ambiguity of the law, Rundle told the task force that law enforcement has applied the Stand Your Ground law in a “hodge-podge” manner.

The Rev. R.B. Holmes Jr., pastor of Bethel Missionary Baptist Church in Tallahassee and vice chairman of the task force, took a verbal shot at Smith’s task force and said his group has a clear road map to have proposals ready for Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature prior to the regular 2013 session in March.

“With all due respect to my good friend the senator, this is not a South Florida task force, this is a state of Florida task force,” Holmes said. “I think that if the citizens will -- and they will -- and the political leaders will follow this road map, I think everyone will be satisfied at the end of the day.”

Reach Jim Turner at jturner@sunshinestatenews.com or at (772) 215-9889.


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