Port Orange Police Modify Witness Affidavit

Port Orange police change policy of witnesses speaking to media
Port Orange police have changed their policy of asking witnesses not to speak to the media when they identify suspects in a crime, city officials said Tuesday night.
The change, announced at a City Council meeting, comes after a Daytona Beach News-Journal article raised questions about Port Orange police requiring witnesses to sign a form, a Witness Identification Affidavit. A media attorney said the affidavit violated a citizen’s First Amendment rights.
The policy stated that crime witnesses “may not discuss the identification procedure or its results with other eye witnesses involved in the case and make no contact with the media because this is an open investigation.”
The policy now takes out references to the media and states witnesses “should not discuss this photo process or the results.”
City audit and budget advisory board member Ted Noftall questioned the affidavit during a public comment portion of Tuesday night’s meeting, and City Attorney Margaret Roberts stated the policy had been revised Tuesday afternoon under the direction of the police chief.
Noftall said he wasn’t satisfied with the change.
“I still have a problem with the phrase ‘you should not’,” Noftall said. “I don’t want to see the rights of a citizen abridged. I would ask that this be further modified.”
Port Orange Police Chief Gerald Monahan was present for the meeting but did not address questions about the affidavit. He left before the meeting adjourned.
Port Orange Vice Mayor Don Burnette said he requested Monahan’s presence at the meeting so citizens and council members could ask questions about the policy. Burnette said he did not know the policy existed until it was reported by The News-Journal on Saturday.
“There’s no doubt this was changed because of all the media coverage,” Burnette said.
The policy made news after Port Orange resident Patricia Pettit claimed the affidavit was why she could not talk to the media about being beaten by three women wielding hammers and a wooden club at her home last week.
The policy that Port Orange and other similar-sized law enforcement agencies use was modeled after 2008 guidelines from the Innocence Project suggesting law enforcement agencies should discourage witnesses from contacting the media after identifying a suspect because media coverage could lead to wrongful prosecutions.
However, Tampa attorney James J. McGuire of Thomas & LoCicero, a law firm that deals with media issues, told The News-Journal he had a problem with police preventing a witness with discussing anything with the press, and called the policy “a clear violation of the First Amendment.”
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