FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
January 14, 2010
Brandon Hensler, Director of Communications, (786) 363-2737 or firstname.lastname@example.org
PENSACOLA, Fla. – The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida sent a letter to State Attorney William Eddins late yesterday urging him to withdraw his request for a coroner’s inquest into the death of Victor Steen, who was struck and killed by a Pensacola Police officer’s car on October 3, 2009.
“Using an inquest to avoid making a decision about whether to prosecute this case is a waste of time, a waste of money, and is disrespectful to Mr. Steen, who lost his life,” said Benjamin James Stevenson, ACLU of Florida attorney based in Pensacola. “This is an arcane practice that is rarely used elsewhere in the state. This move is political cover – it’s time for the State Attorney to make a decision and not drag this out.”
The practice of using a coroner’s inquest is not a substitute for the State Attorney’s decision on whether to move forward with a criminal prosecution. “This inquest is smoke and mirrors with the intent to fool the public into thinking that an independent and binding review of the facts will occur, when in fact, it will not. With FDLE having investigated this matter for three months, it is doubtful that the State Attorney will learn anything new.”
The ACLU proposed that the State Attorney turn the prosecution over to an attorney appointed by the Governor.
View the full text of the letter below, or download a PDF of the letter here: http://www.aclufl.org/pdfs/Eddins_Inquest.pdf
Hon. William Eddins
Florida State Attorney - First Judicial Circuit
190 Governmental Center
Pensacola, FL 32501 January 13, 2010
VIA U.S. MAIL
Re: State Attorney’s Referral to “Coroner’s Inquest” Investigation of Death of Victor Steen
ACLU of Fla. File No. 7030
Dear State Attorney Eddins:
We understand that you have requested a coroner’s inquest into the death of Victor Steen. We urge you to withdraw your request for a coroner’s inquest and to exercise your authority to decide whether or not a prosecution is warranted.
As you know, Mr. Steen died on October 3, 2009, when he was struck by an automobile driven by Pensacola Police officer Jerald Ard. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) conducted an extensive investigation into Mr. Steen’s death. With the benefit of this investigation, which you received in late December, we urge you to determine whether the evidence in this matter is sufficient or not to initiate a criminal prosecution.
Referring this matter for further review by a coroner’s inquest is unnecessary, costly, and serves only to politically insulate a decision not to prosecute. The inquest’s outcome is inconsequential; prosecutorial discretion always lies with the State Attorney. Regrettably though, a coroner’s inquest leaves the public with the mistaken impression that there has been an independent judicial adjudication of guilt or innocence. Yet, the participation of the State Attorney’s Office—which inherently has already decided that a criminal trial is not warranted—compromises the vigor with which the evidence is presented at the inquest and scuttles any potential criminal prosecution.
If the State Attorney is incapable of making this important decision whether or not to prosecute—because of an actual or perceived conflict of interest in the State Attorney prosecuting a police officer who is usually a state witness in other prosecutions—then, pursuant to Section 27.14, Florida Statutes, you should request that the Governor appoint a special prosecutor to investigate this matter. If you want to provide the public an opportunity to hear all the evidence, then we invite you to release the FDLE investigation and answer questions about it at a press conference. Regardless, we urge that you withdraw your request to initiate a coroner’s inquest.
Benjamin James Stevenson
cc: Governor Crist
State of Florida
Tallahassee, FL 32301
About the ACLU of Florida
The ACLU of Florida is freedom's watchdog, working daily in the courts, legislatures and communities to defend individual rights and personal freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. For additional information, visit our web site at: www.aclufl.org.
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