FORT MYERS, Fla. — Cape Coral Police Chief Anthony Sizemore expressed disappointment on Friday when announcing that two officers were out of a job for not helping an intoxicated young man, 22-year old Jeremiah Don Ballam Jr., get home safely. He drowned in a Cape Coral canal just minutes after their encounter which was captured on body cam footage.
Chief Sizemore said that multiple department policy violations led to the loss of their employment, but those officers also had the ability to use what's called the Marchman Act and take Ballam into protective custody to sober up, which didn't happen.
Fort Myers attorney Ryan O'Hallaran has dealt with thousands of cases dealing with the Marchman Act, and says it has similarities to the more widely known Baker Act.
“It has many different provisions, it’s a complex statute. But the one that is most relevant here is that it enables law enforcement to take somebody into custody if they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol found in a public place and they need to be basically protected from themselves,” explains O'Hallaran.
That lack of protection from himself may have been what helped seal Ballam's fate - but O'Hallaran says the act doesn't say that the officers had to help him get home safe.
“It does not require them necessarily to do something. So it’s not necessarily a violation of a statute, you’re not breaking a law,” he says.
While that might shield them from any criminal charges, it doesn't mean it couldn't spell legal trouble for officers Morgan or Rios down the line.
“Nobody is above the law entirely. And so depending on the policies that may have been in place, depending on the violations - and again, I’m not familiar with the inner policies of the Cape Coral Police Department, but obviously these two gentlemen did run afoul of some of them to get the ending that they did," he says.