Statement on temporary restraining order entered on Feb. 7, 2017, by U.S. District Judge in John Doe v. County of Fairfax, an order prohibiting the release of the name of an officer involved in the killing of a Fairfax resident on the grounds that do do so would be a “state created danger” violative of the officer’s due process rights.
The following statement may be attributed to ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Claire Guthrie Gastañaga:
"While the ACLU of Virginia acknowledges that this is just a temporary order that may be reversed as early as Feb. 9, 2017, when a hearing is scheduled to be held, we disagree strongly with the judge’s finding on these facts that a temporary restraining order should have been entered.
"First, the balance struck by the court in the officer’s favor gave little to no weight to the public’s right to know which of their paid employees has killed another member of the community or to the important interest of the law enforcement agency in building trust with the community it serves, which trust can only flourish in culture of transparency and accountability.
"Second, the chief of police had independently determined that he would delay disclosure of the plaintiff/officer’s name until after the completion of the departmental investigation, and had made no decision yet whether to continue to hold the name confidential if there were continuing safety concerns. The court should not substitute it’s judgment for the chief’s on this issue, particularly where there has never been an incident, in Virginia or elsewhere, of an officer who killed someone being injured or attacked as a result of disclosure of his identity. Moreover, the department has shown that it knows how to protect its officers from verifiable threats of actual harm through past actions.
"Third, it is deeply offensive for the judge to base his ruling that the plaintiff officer had made a showing he would succeed on the merits of his claim of “state created danger” almost entirely on the finding that “it appears that the victim was of a different race or ethnicity from plaintiff.” The mere suggestion that a difference between the races/ethnicities of victim and officer is enough to spark a fear of danger, without more, is offensive to justice.
"Finally, regarding officer safety, the ACLU of Virginia respects the need to assure that every officer involved in a police shooting – and the officers’ families – are safe from harm. Nonetheless, we believe the names of officers involved in a shooting should be released no later than 48 hours after the incident. Like the law enforcement author of an article in The Police Chief, the self-described “professional voice of law enforcement,” we believe that this is the “best policy” for all law enforcement agencies to follow, particularly if they wish to earn the trust of the communities and people they police. Two days is more than enough time for any law enforcement agency to do what is reasonably necessary to ensure that any real issues regarding the safety of an officer or his or her family are addressed."