Legislature passes ‘Curtis’ Law’ requiring police transparency with families of murdered children
TALLAHASSEE, FLA. 3/07/22-Sen. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park, listens to a response to his question during debate on the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, Monday at the Capitol in Tallahassee. COLIN HACKLEY PHOTO

The measure is inspired a 25-year-old homicide originally ruled an accident.

The loss of a child is among the most devastating tragedies that can befall a family.

Murder compounds that pain, and being kept in the dark about how the child was killed and what police are doing to solve the case can make it all but unbearable.

But while Florida law currently provides a list of rights for victims and witnesses of crimes, there is no specific mandate for law enforcement agencies to provide investigative and contact information to the families of murdered minors.

That may soon change.

On Wednesday, lawmakers unanimously approved SB 233, which would require that during criminal investigations of the death of a minor, the investigating police agency must provide their next of kin with detailed information about the case.

The bill, if approved by Gov. Ron DeSantis, would require police to provide a minor’s next of kin — including family members and/or guardians — with information including:

— The contact information for the primary personnel investigating the case.

— The case number for the investigation, if applicable.

— The status of the investigation.

— A list of the minor’s personal effects that were found on or with them and information on how their families or next of kin can collect those items.

Police would be able to withhold information about the minor’s possessions at the time of death if doing so could jeopardize or interfere with an active investigation. They would also be permitted to deny investigative information at their discretion.

SB 233 is called “Curtis’ Law,” named for Curtis Williamson, whose 1997 death in San Diego was originally ruled an accidental drowning. His mother, Patricia Ward, didn’t buy that explanation and spent the next two decades collecting evidence that pointed to an altercation that proved fatal for her 16-year-old son.

In 2017, the San Diego Police Department and County Medical Examiner’s Office changed the manner of death to a homicide.

Ward now lives in Florida and is a member of Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice, which seeks more considerate laws across the country. Last August, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a California version of “Curtis’ Law,” which took effect at the beginning of 2023.

This March, she joined the group on its annual trip to Tallahassee to push for the law here.

They found sympathetic ears with Miami Gardens Sen. Shevrin Jones and Jacksonville Rep. Kiyan Michael, who sponsored legislation to put “Curtis’ Law” on the books. Now the bill is one signature from going into effect July 1.

“An estimated one in 10 Americans will lose a loved one to homicide during their lifetime, leaving many families seeking answers after such trauma,” Jones said in a statement. “Thanks to the advocacy of parents across the state and Crime Survivors Safety and Justice, today we are one step closer to that reality.

“I am grateful that my colleagues in both chambers recognized the importance of getting families the information they need and deserve.”

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.


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