How Police Training Contributes to Avoidable Deaths

To save lives, cops must be taught to think beyond the gun belt.

The AtlanticSETH STOUGHTON

There have been too many lives lost to police killings. Too many phone calls telling families that their loved ones, particularly young black men, won’t be coming home. But in most cases, it isn’t because individual police officers are consciously racist or think black lives don’t matter. It is because officers perform the way they are trained to perform.

Having served as an officer at a large municipal police department, and now as a scholar who researches policing, I am intimately familiar with police training. I’m not just relying on my own experience, though. I’ve had long conversations with officers and former officers, including firearms trainers and use-of-force instructors, at law enforcement agencies across the country, and they’ve all led to one conclusion: American police officers are among the best-trained in the world, but what they’re trained to do is part of the problem.

Police training starts in the academy, where the concept of officer safety is so heavily emphasized that it takes on almost religious significance. Rookie officers are taught what is widely known as the “first rule of law enforcement”: An officer’s overriding goal every day is to go home at the end of their shift.

Medical records case goes to U.S. Supreme Court

By Jim Saunders

The News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE — Arguing that a Florida Supreme Court ruling “undermines” a federal patient-safety law, a Jacksonville hospital system is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to take up a legal battle about the disclosure of medical records.

Southern Baptist Hospital of Florida, Inc., which operates as the Baptist Health System in the Jacksonville area, filed a petition last week asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear an appeal of a Jan. 31 ruling by the Florida Supreme Court.

The case could have implications for medical-malpractice lawsuits across Florida and deals with interplay between a 2005 federal patient-safety law and a 2004 Florida constitutional amendment that was designed to expand access to health-care providers’ records in malpractice cases.

The 2004 constitutional amendment, backed by plaintiffs’ attorneys, was intended to provide access to what are known in the health-care industry as “adverse medical incident” reports.

Florida Caps in Malpractice Cases Ruled Unconstitutional

By BRENDAN FARRINGTON, Associated Press

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Caps on how much money patients injured by a doctor's mistakes can receive were declared unconstitutional by the Florida Supreme Court on Thursday, a decision that strikes down one of former Gov. Jeb Bush's major policy victories.

The court ruled that the caps placed into law in 2003 were arbitrary and there's no proof that they reduced malpractice insurance rates that lawmakers were attempting to contain. Even if they have, there's no present crisis to justify the caps. In a 4-3 decision, justices also said the caps unfairly hurt those most severely injured by doctors' mistakes.

"The caps on noneconomic damages ... arbitrarily reduce damage awards for plaintiffs who suffer the most drastic injuries," the court said.

Deputy resigns, others disciplined after Indian River Sheriff's probe

Lamaur Stancil , lamaur.stancil@tcpalm.com

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — A sheriff's deputy resigned and two were suspended following an internal affairs review of an excessive force complaint, according to a report.

The investigation revolved around the Dec. 3 arrest of Council Bryant on a domestic violence charge, which was later dropped. A woman at the home said Bryant, 53, punched her in the face twice, according to the report.

Indian River County sheriff's deputies Roger Jones and Jonathan Lozada entered the home to arrest Bryant, who resisted being handcuffed, the report said. During the altercation, Jones told internal affairs investigators he punched Bryant three times in the face. Deputies took Bryant  to a hospital because his face was swelling, the report said.

The Sheriff's Office concluded Bryant's resistance was not violent and didn't require Jones to punch him. Internal affairs investigators said the complaint for excessive response resulting in injury was valid and could have led to Jones being fired. However, Jones submitted his resignation Jan. 26. No criminal charges were filed against Jones.

Also in the investigation, the Sheriff's Office suspended Lt. Macen Levan for eight hours and Sgt. Ron Garrison for four hours because reports in the case were not completed.  Garrison was Jones' supervisor, and Levan was the watch commander for the shift when the deputies went to Bryant's home.

Lozada was given a letter of reprimand in the case, also for failing to complete a report.

Fla. justices rule medical documents must be disclosed

By Jim Saunders, The News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE - In a ruling that could have implications for medical-malpractice cases across the state, the Florida Supreme Court on Tuesday said a Jacksonville hospital system was required to provide records to a patient's family because of a 2004 constitutional amendment.

The 5-2 ruling overturned a decision by the 1st District Court of Appeal, which said a federal patient-safety law shielded the hospital system from having to turn over some documents in a malpractice lawsuit. The ruling stemmed from a voter-approved ballot initiative, known as Amendment 7, that was designed to expand access to records in malpractice cases.

"The federal act was intended by Congress to improve the overall health care in this system, not to act as a shield to providers, thereby dismantling an important right afforded to Florida citizens through Amendment 7," said the majority opinion, written by Justice Barbara Pariente and joined by Chief Justice Jorge Labarga, justices R. Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince and Senior Justice James E.C. Perry.  "Moreover, health care providers should not be able to unilaterally decide which documents will be discoverable and which will not in medical malpractice cases.

Thousands of tobacco lawsuits in the pipeline

Jeffrey Schweers, Democrat staff writer

Wade Halvorson died in 2008 at the age of 68 of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease at Westminster Oaks. But his lawsuit against Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds and Liggett lives on through his widow, Sandra.

The lawsuit she filed in Leon County Circuit Court is among at least a dozen filed by local residents, and one of thousands statewide that have resulted in judgments totaling hundreds of millions of dollars. These plaintiffs are all remnants of a class action suit collectively known as “Engle progeny.”

Many of those plaintiffs have died waiting for the cigarette manufacturers to pay up, thanks to an obscure statute exclusive to tobacco companies that says they don’t have to put up a bond or pay out until every last appeal has been exhausted.

“They can draw it out for years and years,” said John S. Mills, a Tallahassee attorney who represents plaintiffs when the tobacco companies appeal trial court verdicts. “There is a financial incentive to string it out, to file extensions.”

Twin bills filed by Sen. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota and Rep. Danny Burgess, R-Zephyrhills, for the upcoming legislative session would change that by repealing the statute that gives tobacco companies this exclusive advantage.

Red-light camera law faces repeal this year

By Dan Sweeney, Sun Sentinel

With crashes at intersections that have red-light cameras on the rise, lawmakers could repeal the state's red-light camera law entirely.

An early step in what legislators will do about the controversial law took place Wednesday when House members who sit on the Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee heard an overview of the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles report that found crashes at intersections with red-light cameras rose 10 percent in 2015.

That same committee will be the first to hear a proposed repeal of the state law that legalized red-light cameras in 2010.

But the report on increased crashes also found pedestrian-involved accidents dropped nearly 20 percent, and state representatives were unsure how to take the overall results.

"We don't know whether they've made or to what to degree they've made these intersections safer," said state Rep. Kristin Jacobs, D-Coconut Creek.

Court Rules Police Needed Warrant To Search Cell Phone

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Saying the nature of information contained on a cell phone “sets it apart from other physical objects,” a South Florida appeals court has ruled that police needed a warrant before searching a phone that had been left behind in a stolen car.

A three-judge panel of the 4th District Court of Appeal upheld a circuit judge’s decision to suppress evidence obtained from an abandoned cell phone in a case involving a juvenile identified by the initials K.C.

The decision stemmed from an incident in which a Lauderhill police officer stopped a vehicle that was speeding and operating without headlights at night. Two people got out and fled, but the officer found a cell phone left behind in the vehicle, which later was determined to have been stolen in Sunrise.

Court ends case over escaped Shands Vista patient's death

By Jim Saunders The News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE - After an unusual series of events, the Florida Supreme Court agreed Wednesday to dismiss a lawsuit stemming from the death of a patient who was killed on Interstate 75 after escaping from an Alachua County psychiatric hospital.

The decision came after a majority of the court twice refused to dismiss the lawsuit - even though a settlement had been reached and both parties wanted the case dropped.

As is common, the court did not explain its reasons Wednesday for going ahead with the dismissal. But the move came after the estate of the patient, Ashley Lawson, filed a document last week that said it would not submit an additional brief about the issues in the case and that the parties "are contractually prohibited from further litigation in this matter."

Confusion over field drug tests highlights lack of training for Florida officers

By Topher Sanders and Ryan Gabrielson, ProPublica

Over the first several months of 2014, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office arrested 15 people on drug charges only to have the Florida state crime lab determine the substances thought to have been drugs in fact were not.

The arrests had been made by deputies on Florida's Gulf Coast using what are known as chemical field tests — inexpensive kits designed to detect the presence of illegal drugs. A suspected substance is dropped into a pouch of chemicals. The liquid turns a certain color if the substance is, say, methamphetamine or cocaine.

Amid the rash of mistakes, Christopher Baumann, a lieutenant who'd worked narcotics and homicide at the agency, decided to conduct an experiment. He placed material listed as methamphetamine into a kit specifically meant to indicate methamphetamine and watched as the liquid in the pouch turned a purple-ish color. He understood that to mean the test was positive for methamphetamine. Then he activated another kit — cracking open ampules of the chemical reagent — but placed nothing inside the pouch. The liquid turned the same color.

Baumann, concerned, notified his superiors of his results in a memo. They took swift action: Officers in the department were ordered to turn in their remaining field test kits. Prosecutors dropped charges against a number of people arrested for possession of methamphetamine, according to the local public defender's office.

But sheriff's officials subsequently made an embarrassing discovery. It was Baumann who had erred, not the tests. He'd misinterpreted the color changes. The department had to notify the local prosecutor again, though little could be done about the methamphetamine arrests that might have been dismissed prematurely.

Beyond scuttling a handful of cases, Hillsborough County's confusion reflects a broader issue with field tests, which are used by thousands of law enforcement agencies across the country to bring drug charges and obtain guilty pleas from those charged.

Many officers appear to receive little or no formal training in the proper use and interpretation of these tests and there are no requirements for them to do so.

Supreme Court Ready To Hear Malpractice Case

By THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA  DEC 1, 2016

More than three years after a legislative battle about the issue, the Florida Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments next week about a medical-malpractice law that spurred debate over access to health information and patients' privacy rights.

Justices will hear arguments Dec. 8 in an Escambia County case that challenges the constitutionality of the 2013 law. The law has been controversial, at least in part, because it opened the door to what are known as "ex parte communications" in malpractice cases.

In ex parte communications, for example, defense attorneys representing doctors accused of malpractice could get personal health information about the patients involved in the cases. That information could come from other doctors who treated the patients, and disclosure could occur without the patients' attorneys being present.

Critics of the law, such as plaintiffs' attorneys, argue the law violates patients' privacy rights. But supporters of the law contended during the 2013 debate that its passage was a fairness issue because ex parte communications would give defense attorneys access to information that plaintiffs' attorneys already could review.

The 1st District Court of Appeal upheld the constitutionality of the law in the Escambia County case, finding that it did not violate privacy rights. That spurred an appeal to the Supreme Court.

Florida Supreme Court Won’t Reconsider Nursing Home Case

By THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA

A divided Florida Supreme Court on Tuesday said it would not reconsider a decision rejecting arbitration in a lawsuit about injuries suffered by a nursing-home resident.

Appeals courts across the state in recent years have dealt with questions about the validity of arbitration agreements that nursing-home residents or family members have signed at the time of admission. The agreements are designed to settle legal disputes in arbitration, rather than going to court and potentially being decided by juries.

The Supreme Court in September said a father, Juan Mendez Sr., could not be bound by an arbitration requirement that his son signed without the elder Mendez's agreement. The elder Mendez suffered an infection in 2011 that led to the removal of his left eye, prompting a lawsuit in Miami-Dade County circuit court against Hampton Court Nursing Center. The nursing home argued the case should be resolved in arbitration, but the Supreme Court disagreed.

The elder Mendez died in 2013.

Officer learns lesson by signing doctor's arbitration agreement

By Andrew Ruiz

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - Imagine a doctor leaving a surgical instrument inside your body and you’re told you have no legal recourse.

This happened to a West Palm Beach police officer; her doctor told her he’s protected because she signed an arbitration agreement.

Briggid Larson says she remembers waking up from hip surgery and being told everything was fine, “It’s all good, no complications.”

After more than ten days into recovery, she finds out everything wasn’t ok, she discovered a drill bit in her x-ray and asked, “what is that?”

According to Larson, Dr. Michael Cooney didn’t disclose that he had left the drill bit during surgery and knowingly closed her up.

Mark Rubin on WOKV: Latitude 360 CEO - Top Golf could be reason landlord filed for eviction

By Sarah Thompson

Jacksonville, FL —

With chains on the door and a sign thanking Jacksonville for five amazing years, Latitude 360, a popular entertainment complex near the Avenues Mall, suddenly closed their doors late Wednesday night.

While employees tell WOKV they had no idea this was coming, the company has been facing its fair share of problems in recent months.  The landlord of the Southside property has been trying to evict Latitude 360 since October, claiming they owed about millions in construction costs, overdue rent, and late fees. Employees also claim they haven't been getting paid on a regular basis.

We spoke with WOKV's legal analyst Mark Rubin about the sudden closure, and he tells us if you're a member of Latitude 360 you may or may not get your money back.  "Unless, there was an agreement to honor the membership by the new owners, those people who've already paid for memberships have probably lost their money," Rubin says. 

It seems to be a similar story if you've prepaid to hold a future event at Latitude 360, like a birthday party.  Rubin says, "It's unlikely that a new owner would honor that, because those funds would have been paid for services that there's no money to pay for now."

And Jacksonville isn't the only city Latitude 360 has experienced problems.  Back in December, the company was forced to close their location in Indiana, supposedly for tax issues.

Their location in Pittsburgh also had a close call in December, where the owner reportedly arrived with cashier checks to pay on an overdue county tax, just moments before police placed locks on the doors.

A new ownership group is expected to arrive in Jacksonville soon.

Mark Rubin on WOKV: Defamation case against Rolling Stone 'not easy'

By Gene Wexler

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Rolling Stone magazine faces a potential lawsuit from a University of Virginia fraternity chapter over a discredited article about an alleged gang rape, but WOKV’s legal analyst thinks it will likely settle out of court.

“It’s not quite an open and shut case here,” Rubin says.

The University of Virginia chapter of Phi Kappa Psi would have to prove Rolling Stone made false statements if they choose to file a defamation of character lawsuit.

“And there’s a fine line between being wrong, and being false,” Rubin says.

Mark Rubin on WOKV: Florida conflicted over medical marijuana regulations

By Gene Wexler

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. —  A local attorney is challenging the Florida Department of Health’s proposed regulations for the state’s new medical marijuana industry, which was approved by the legislature last year.

Last week, Jacksonville attorney Ian Christensen filed a challenge in the state Division of Administration Hearings to the rules for implementing the 2014 law that would make the limited “Charlotte’s Web” strain of medical marijuana available.  The strain is said to be low in the euphoria-inducing THC chemical and high in cannabidiol, the supposed medicinal parts of the plant.

“It’s a push pull between the pro-medical marijuana community and the State of Florida,” says WOKV legal analyst Mark Rubin.

Mark Rubin, WOKV legal expert, believes Fla gay marriage inevitable

By Paris Carerra

The first ever divorce of a gay couple has been granted in Florida.  A South Florida circuit judge, Dale Cohen, previously ruled the state's ban on same sex marriage was unconstitutional.  Now he's allowed the first formal divorce of a gay couple. Cohen dissolved the marriage of Heather Brassner and Megan Lade who were united in a 2002 civil union in Vermont.

WOKV's legal analyst Mark Rubin says support for the rights of the LGBT community is taking off across America.  "There is a wave of activism that is coming across the country."

Rubin believes former Supreme Court rulings will likely trickle down to Florida. In 2008, voters did not pass an amendment to legalize gay marriage in Florida but Rubin says a wave is coming.  "As far as the courts are concerned, gay marriage is eventually going to be legal in Florida."

Attorney General Pam Bondi is expected to appeal that court ruling.

Mark Rubin on WOKV: Alexander plea deal is a 'win-win'

By Gene Wexler

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. —

Jacksonville mother Marissa Alexander accepted a plea deal which effectively ends her court system battles dating back to August 2010 when she was first charged with three counts of domestic aggravated assault.

More than four years later, Alexander is pleading guilty to all three felony charges.  Similar to the plea deal offered to her before her first trial, the state is agreeing to waive the 20-year minimum mandatory sentence for each charge.  Instead of facing 60 years in prison, Alexander is sentenced to three years in jail.

Mark Rubin on WOKV: Disappointed at first degree conviction for Dunn

By Stephanie Brown

Jacksonville, FL —

State Attorney Angela Corey says a first degree murder conviction for Michael Dunn shows the case was not overcharged, but WOKV’s Legal Analyst Mark Rubin says it’s not that clear cut.

“The fact that a jury followed the State Attorney’s recommendation and convicted on first degree murder shows that the prosecutors in the trial are better than the defense attorneys,” Rubin says.

Rubin believes the facts that were presented on the stand show a clear case of second degree murder. The difference between first and second degree centers on premeditation.

“The jury had to believe that Dunn intended to kill Jordan Davis,” Rubin says.