WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. A 30-second security video capturing the fatal shooting of a Palm Beach County firefighter in a Wendy’s restaurant can be viewed by the public but not copied or distributed, a judge ruled July 25.
The Associated Press and The Palm Beach Post filed a lawsuit against the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office after it refused to release the evidence video which shows the death of fire Lt. Ray Vazquez and the gunman on March 3.
Judith Mercier, an attorney for the news-media outlets, said the video was a public record that could not be withheld.
Circuit Judge David French asked her what purpose disseminating the video would serve. Mercier replied that Florida law does not require people to state a purpose when asking for a public record.
Sheriff’s office attorneys and Vazquez’s family argued the family had “endured enough suffering” and that releasing the video would violate privacy and subject the family to further pain.
French, who viewed the video in his chambers, said his ruling balanced the public’s right to know with the family’s right to privacy. French also ordered the sheriff’s office to blur the identities of the firefighters and family members. The public can view it at the sheriff’s office once that is done. The judge said he hoped that would be completed within 10 days.
Vazquez’s wife wept as the ruling was read. She declined to comment as she left the courtroom.
Earlier, sheriff’s office attorney Glenn Cameron told the judge if the video was released, he feared it would appear in tabloids, on TV, the Internet and YouTube. “Sensationalism at its worst,” Cameron said.
The AP and the Post said they never intended to sensationalize the video, but were merely seeking access to public records.
“Reporters routinely look at surveillance tapes and listen to 911 recordings when reporting on crimes. Surveillance videos in criminal reports are public records routinely released by police agencies, and we’re pleased the judge agreed,” Post Editor John Bartosek said.
Vazquez, his wife and young son had just left Wendy’s when Vazquez went back inside the restaurant and Alburn “Eddie” Blake, 60, opened fire, killing Vazquez and wounding four others before shooting himself.
Because the public must go to the sheriff’s office to view the video, Mercier says it may make it difficult for some to make the trip.
“Under Florida law, access to public records should be made easy for everyone,” she said.