BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Police won't release the name of a North Dakota officer involved in a shooting in part because he is invoking a new law that expands the rights of crime victims, a position that some call a distortion of the law's intent.
The officer was attacked while responding to a call Oct. 15 at a motel in Bismarck. Police said he was punched in the head repeatedly and had his eyes gouged before he shot 51-year-old Donald Miller in the stomach, wounding him.
"(Police officers) are human beings and get protections under the law just as every citizen does," Bismarck Police Chief Dan Donlin told The Associated Press on Thursday. "We have to err on the side of the victim or we violate his constitutional rights. That's our interpretation."
Jack McDonald, an attorney who frequently represents media outlets in the state, called the interpretation "a perversion of that Marsy's Law thing."
"So a policeman is a victim because he is doing what he is supposed to do?" McDonald said.
Donlin said that's a bad argument.
"Police officers do not sign up to be shot and killed or assaulted," he said.
The officer's name was initially withheld as a matter of routine, according to Donlin. In the past, names were released once the state completed an investigation of a shooting involving an officer.
A no-contact order issued to Miller, the man accused of attacking the officer, forbids him from having any "indirect or direct contact" with Justin Antonovich. Antonovich is a Bismarck police officer, but Donlin would not confirm whether Antonovich was the officer involved in the shooting.
Calls that The Associated Press made Thursday to an area phone-number listing for a Justin Antonovich rang unanswered.
North Dakota voters overwhelmingly approved the measure known as Marsy's Law as a constitutional amendment last year, joining several other states that have adopted similar laws.
The law guarantees crime victims and their families the right to participate in judicial proceedings and expands their privacy rights, among other provisions.
Its passage was opposed by most people charged with enforcing it, including police, prosecutors and victims' advocates. They called it a bad idea that will have unintended consequences.
Robert Bennett, a Minneapolis attorney who has worked on several civil cases related to high-profile police shootings, said there's been a general movement nationwide for departments to be more transparent than they had been.
"The idea about transparency is it kind of indicates there's nothing to hide," Bennett said. "Everybody gets a little suspicious when the light of the media doesn't get to shine on (an incident)."
Philip Stinson, a criminologist at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, said the public has a right to know the names of officers involved in incidents with firearms. He said an officer could have a history of violence, and the public won't have that information if the officer's name isn't released.
Donlin, the police chief, said the Bismarck officer returned to work this week and will be on desk duty until the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation completes a review.
His alleged attacker, Miller, was charged with assaulting a peace officer and robbery. He's being held on $150,000 bond. Court records do not list an attorney for him.