Miami-Dade County’s State Attorney Katherine Fernandez-Rundle is censoring at least 100 of her critics on Twitter, including a dozen accounts either named Darren Rainey or with the deceased man’s profile image.
We have pictures to prove it.
This exclusive report is based upon public records requested from the Miami-Dade SAO’s office under Florida’s Sunshine Law, including their social media policy, which as it turns out does not specify that a public official in their office has any allowance to censor citizens by blocking access to their public posts.
When government actors block critics on social media, it may violate both the state of Florida and federal constitution, both of which protect the right to petition the government.
State Attorney Fernandez-Rundle is facing intense public criticism after she declined to prosecute the four Florida state prison guards who left Darren Rainey – a non-violent offender – locked in a scalding hot shower with external temperature controls for over 90 minutes until he was found dead.
Rainey’s post-mortem body temperature was estiamted at 109 degrees.
The prosecutor’s office didn’t initially wish to respond to our records request, writing, “We have no responsive records to your second request.”
But we shared an image provided by Navy Corpsman Daniel Suarez proving that Miami’s top prosecutor was censoring citizens, so they relented and delivered a dozen images, which may not even be the complete list.
“Florida public officials should always turn over these kinds of lists if they do in fact exist because they’re a matter of serious public interest,” says Faudlin Pierre, a Florida attorney who has filed suit to obtain social media records, “I commend the State Attorney for promptly releasing this critical document.”
Also, it is unclear that Florida officials are allowed to block citizens whatsoever without running afoul of the state’s Sunshine Law which requires public officials to provide information in the most expeditious and convenient format possible. Florida Statute 119.021(1)b. says that the custodians of records must store make their records “easily accessible”:
Insofar as practicable, a custodian of public records of vital, permanent, or archival records shall keep them in fireproof and waterproof safes, vaults, or rooms fitted with noncombustible materials and in such arrangement as to be easily accessible for convenient use.
Even an experienced prosecutor would have a tough time defending the block in a state court, which forces critics to request tweets manually or to find a computer where they’re not logged in to access the public official’s messages.
Not everyone agrees on the applicability of the constitution’s First Amendment when public officials block people on Twitter.
That’s what attorney Marc Randazza said about the prosecutor’s lengthy Twitter block list. He’s a First Amendment attorney and thinks that social media blocking is a matter of the quality of public service people are receiving, “I don’t believe this is a First Amendment problem, I believe this is a pathetic public official problem.”
Miami-Dade’s medical examiner blamed Rainey’s mental illness and said the prison guards didn’t mean to kill their schizophrenic, 50-year old victim.
Fernandez-Rundle’s own political party is livid over the decision to forgo prosecution of the guards entrusted with Rainey’s care, and voted overwhelmingly for a second time in two months to demand the 24-year veteran prosecutor’s resignation – but for the second time failed to achieve a quorum to make that vote official meaning that a third vote will happen later this month.
“It’s really ironic that the only reason we found out that the State Attorney is censoring her critics,” says Petty Officer Suarez, whom the prosecutor silenced on Memorial Day, “is because she made a post about freedom.”
Author’s Disclosure: I am a voting At-Large member of the Miami-Dade Democratic Executive Committee.