Justice Opinion

My thoughts about the justice stories that are hitting the headlines -- with a focus on stories about race, guns, and self-defense. Find out where I stand.

Justice Outreach

This is the platform for our justice advocacy efforts, currently focused on the Talking Race Project, The Hurt Words Project, and Juvenile Outreach. Find out what we’re up to.

Justice Education

I frequently conduct CLEs and seminars for Bar Associations, Criminal Defense Associations, the National Trial Lawyers, and law schools. Find out what I’m talking about.

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.

Orange County Race and Justice Panel

Written by Mark O'Mara on . Posted in Outreach

panel line up

Last week, I participated in a panel discussion about race and justice in Central Florida. Moderated by the Honorable Judge Faye Allen, the panel included Major Vereen from the Orange County Sheriff’s office, state senator Gary Siplin, Orlando Police Chief John Mina, state attorney Jeff Ashton, and criminal defense attorneys Alisia Adamson and Louis Calderon.

Judge Allen asked each of the panelists how the criminal justice system in Central Florida rates in regards to treatment of African Americans. Both law representatives of law enforcement gave our system a rating of “fair.” I agreed, and I suggest that unless everyone involved in the criminal justice system admits that there is a bias in the system, we won’t be able to fix it. One practical way to instill trust is to fund and utilize body cameras. Daytona Beach P.D. has had them for a couple of years, and use of force incidents have dropped, as well as complaints against cops. There has even been an increase in pleas to criminal events which were recorded, which saves an enormous amount of funds.

Below are some highlights from the discussion:

Social Justice Round Table, March 19

Written by Mark O'Mara on . Posted in Outreach

Thursday, March 19th, I’ll contribute to a panel discussion designed to identify solutions for promoting positive relationships between law enforcement, the courts, and the community. The Honorable Judge Faye Allen will moderate, and I’ll join a distinguished panel that includes State Attorney Jeffrey Ashton, Orlando Police Chief John Mina, Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings, and defense attorneys Louis Calderon and Alissa Adamson.

I believe that the American justice system is the best justice system in the world, but it is not perfect. Minorities, especially African Americans, are grossly over-represented in our jails and prisons -- a clear sign that an implicit racial bias infects our system. It breeds resentment and distrust. In the wake of Ferguson, we’re witnessing a crisis of confidence in our justice system.

Instituting police body cameras is a start. Rebuilding the Ferguson Police Department will send a strong message to law enforcement agencies everywhere that they should reevaluate how they train officers in regards to use of force policies and racial sensitivity. We need to ask politicians to provide the funding needed to implement community policing programs. We need to change our mandatory minimum sentencing laws to give more discretion to judges who are most qualified assess the the specific facts on any particular case; it is not, afterall, a one-size-fits-all justice system.

I hope you’ll join me for what promises to be a rousing and important discussion between people who have the power to affect positive change in how the criminal justice system works in Central Florida. Press welcome.

Thursday, March 19 at 5:30PM

New Covenant Baptist Church
2210 South Rio Grande Ave.
Orlando, FL 32805