Lawmakers launch bipartisan push to pay Broward deputy disabled in preventable shooting

maurydisabled (Large) copy
‘He’s lucky in a lot of ways, but that doesn’t take away from the fact he deserves compensation here. This claim bill is not a lottery ticket.’

For seven years, Republican and Democratic lawmakers have alternately sponsored bills to compensate former Broward Sheriff’s Deputy Maury Hernandez for life-altering injuries he sustained in a preventable shooting due to the negligence of a state employee.

Without exception, the measures didn’t move an inch.

But for the first time, members of both parties have signed on to legislation to pay Hernandez $10 million for the pain and lost wages he continues to suffer.

He and his longtime lawyer, Lance Block, are cautiously optimistic things may finally go differently.

Ahead of the 2024 Legislative Session, New Smyrna Beach Republican Sen. Tom Wright and Hialeah Republican Rep. Alex Rizo filed twin bills (SB 14, HB 6005) to deliver recompense to Hernandez.

Senate Democratic Leader-designate Jason Pizzo co-introduced Wright’s bill — a small development, perhaps, but one that could represent a unified push from both sides of the political aisle.

SB 14 and HB 6005 are known as claims bills and are intended to compensate a person for injuries or losses from the carelessness or error of a public officer or agency.

Claims bills arise when appropriate damages exceed what is allowable under Florida’s sovereign immunity laws, which protect governments, their subdivisions and agencies from costly lawsuits. State law caps government payouts to private claimants at $200,000 per person and $300,000 per incident. Anything a court approves as payment beyond that must be approved through legislation.

In Hernandez’s case, it can easily be argued the level of negligence that led to his harm is so egregious it’s offensive.

On Aug. 6, 2007, Hernandez was driving to work in an unmarked vehicle when he witnessed a motorcycle run three red lights on Pembroke Road. He pulled over the motorist, David Maldonado, who falsely identified himself as a police officer before fleeing the scene on foot.

Hernandez gave chase. Maldonado turned and fired two rounds from a .45-caliber handgun, hitting Hernandez in the head.

Maldonado, whom police apprehended soon after, was on probation after pleading no contest to felony traffic charges. In the four months leading up to the shooting, the Broward Sheriff’s Office (BSO) found he accrued 40 traffic and administrative violations — including reckless driving, driving without a license, unauthorized possession of a firearm and nonprescription drug use.

His parole officer, Duante Foster, a Department of Corrections (DOC) employee, knew of the violations. He also knew Maldonado had a gun. Maldonado said it was for work-related reasons — a lie Foster never checked.

Hernandez underwent a year of physical, occupational, speech, visual and cognitive therapy, but he never fully recovered and lost his $60,000 annual BSO salary and benefits, including medical and life insurance. Beyond “significant economic damages” he’s dealt with — hundreds of thousands of dollars in liens for uncovered medical costs, according to the legislation — his quality of life is far worse due to the incident.

He’s partially paralyzed on his left side. He can walk, albeit unsteadily, and not for long periods of time. Nerve damage affects his motor abilities and causes chronic tingling, pain and phantom feelings of hot and cold. The damage to his brain also caused optic nerve damage and puts him at increased risk of seizure.

“He’s lucky he’s not blind,” Block told Florida Politics. “He’s lucky in a lot of ways, but that doesn’t take away from the fact he deserves compensation here. This claim bill is not a lottery ticket.”

There have been four prior attempts to provide Hernandez with financial relief.

In 2017 and 2018, former Miami Gardens Sen. Oscar Braynon and Hollywood Rep. Evan Jenne, both Democrats, carried measures that would have awarded $10 million to him. Miami Gardens Democratic Sen. Shevrin Jones alone sponsored a claims bill to do the same in 2022.

Wright and Rizo, along with Miramar Republican Rep. Tom Fabricio, picked up the cause earlier this year.

Every attempt ended the same way; the bills died without a single hearing after failing to clear a preliminary process claims bills must go through, in which a special master reviews the measure for factual accuracy and legal sufficiency.

The facts of the case aren’t in dispute. But there’s a snag due to Florida law.

Hernandez sued the DOC in 2009, but the 17th Judicial Circuit Court dismissed the case, ruling that despite the department’s failure to follow its stated policies and procedures, it “owed no duty of care” to him.

The reason: sovereign immunity, an already narrow window for restitution that comes with somewhat perplexing restrictions. Because of the way the statute is written and interpreted today, governments, their agencies and employees can be liable for anything anyone else could be liable for — simple negligence — but not for action or inaction, negligent or otherwise, unique to government work.

For example, a local government can’t be sued for not installing enough stop signs at a busy intersection, regardless of the number of accidents that occur due to their absence. But a government can be sued if a city or county employee runs a stop sign and causes an accident.

So, even though Foster’s inattention led to an avoidable situation where Maldonado was out on the street armed illegally with a gun when he should have been back behind bars, the DOC is entirely protected from any legal damages because the error was unique to government work.

That was the crux of Senate President Kathleen Passidomo’s assertion last Session that the measure “does not meet the requirement for evaluation by a special master because there was no legal finding of negligence … to evaluate nor a settlement or proposed settlement to consider.”

But legally speaking, there’s nothing stopping the Legislature from paying Hernandez anyway. There’s just far less of an impetus to do so.

“This would be a mercy bill,” Block said. “The Legislature would have to exercise its grace and decide that the state of Florida screwed up here.”

Former Broward Sheriff’s Deputy Maury Hernandez and Matt Cowart, President of the Broward Deputy Sheriff’s Association, IUPA Local 6020, addressing members of the Broward Legislative Delegation on Oct. 4. Image via The Florida Channel.

Hernandez, 44, appeared at a Wednesday meeting of the Broward County legislative delegation alongside Matt Cowart, President of the Broward Deputy Sheriff’s Association, IUPA Local 6020, to plead his case ahead of the 2024 Session.

Cowart said he’d already spoken with roughly half of the delegation’s members and is seeking similar support from Miami-Dade County lawmakers.

Pizzo, the Broward delegation Chair, expressed the group’s “full support” for giving Hernandez “compensation he deserves” and thanked him “for your service and your sacrifice.”

“No one at this table … is going to object,” Pizzo said of the $10 million figure. “The number is very reasonable. What you’ve lost — the opportunity cost, the outstanding expenses and even the worker’s comp lien and things that are tended to it for literally putting your life on the line — is extraordinary, and you deserve it.”

Senate Democratic Leader Lauren Book of Davie and Rep. Chip LaMarca, a Lighthouse Point Republican, concurred.

“We know that you wish you could be on the job, but certainly we hear a lot of these (claims bills) for different situations,” LaMarca said. “We want to help you.”

Asked about the special master issue, Cowart said he and the IUPA are “still working on that.”

Rod Skirvin, President of the Broward Police Benevolent Association, told Florida Politics his group had met with Pizzo and other lawmakers “multiple times” earlier this year to get the measure passed.

The game plan this upcoming Session, he said, is to “find a compromise” in the payout total.

“It’s really just about getting people to agree on the number,” he said. “We’ve got to get to a comfort level for both sides of the aisle in order to make that happen, but I think it has a good shot this year.”

Hernandez said it’s “beyond frustrating” to have been repeatedly snubbed by a Legislature whose residents he swore — and forfeited his livelihood — to protect.

“If there was no evidence of wrongdoing on the DOC’s part, I’d be the first person to say, ‘Let’s see what other avenues we can take,’” he said.

“But there is evidence after evidence that the state made a mistake. They were lazy, and because they knew the individual was armed and did nothing to stop it, I got shot in the head. This is a prime example of what could continue to happen if there are no repercussions for the DOC making this mistake, for ignoring the situation. If there’s no consequence, what’s to stop them from doing it again and having someone else get hurt?”

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.


Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch @PeterSchorschFL

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Drew Dixon, Roseanne Dunkelberger, A.G. Gancarski, Anne Geggis, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Cole Pepper, Gray Rohrer, Jesse Scheckner, Christine Sexton, Drew Wilson, and Mike Wright.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @PeterSchorschFL
Phone: (727) 642-3162
Address: 204 37th Avenue North #182
St. Petersburg, Florida 33704

Sign up for Sunburn