Will Joe Biden make a former Florida police chief his 2020 running mate?

Alex Daugherty, McClatchy Washington Bureau on

Published in Political News

WASHINGTON -- Val Demings' rise from Orlando, Fla.'s first black woman police chief to a congresswoman with a central role in President Donald Trump's impeachment trial landed her on Joe Biden's vice presidential shortlist.

And now, as protests over the death of George Floyd grip the country, those same credentials are propelling Demings further into the national spotlight, with interviews last weekend on "Meet the Press," frequent cable news hits and a Washington Post op-ed titled "My fellow brothers and sisters in blue, what the hell are you doing?"

But for Demings, a Democrat who served as police chief from 2007 to 2011 after joining the Orlando Police Department in 1983, the resume that served her so well in the last four years may turn out to be a mixed bag amid the national outcry against police brutality and a flawed criminal justice system.

"Why do bad things happen? Bad mind, bad heart or bad policy?" Demings wrote. "The painful cries of Eric Garner will be with us forever. Now, George Floyd's pleas for help will, too. I cannot begin to understand how any officer could ignore the painful pleas we heard from Floyd -- or from anyone suffering."

Demings wouldn't comment on her law enforcement record, and the Biden campaign wouldn't discuss the vice presidential selection process. Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, said in an interview last month that Demings "is one of a group of close to a dozen really qualified and talented women who are on the list."

Demings' tenure as Orlando police chief was not without controversy. She was once censured by the Police Department's internal affairs department for having her service weapon and ammunition stolen from her unlocked car and a 2015 Orlando Sentinel investigation showed that the Orlando Police Department's use of force during arrests was more than double the rate of similarly sized police departments during her time as chief.


But two civil rights attorneys who were involved in high-profile police brutality cases that occurred on Demings' watch said she's well-suited to be vice president.

"If she's being looked at in terms of 'Does she have the disposition to serve in high office?' I have no question in my mind that she does," said Jerry Girley, an Orlando attorney who sued the Police Department on multiple occasions, including on behalf of an Orlando man who was shot in the back in 2011 after police mistook him for a robbery suspect. "Is she perfect? No. Capable? Yes. She's always been a very deep thinker. I think that she genuinely feels a desire to get justice done."

Orlando attorney Mark NeJame once won an $850,000 settlement from the Orlando Police Department after an officer broke the neck of 84-year-old World War II veteran Daniel Daley in 2010 while responding to a parking dispute between Daley and a tow truck driver.

Demings' department initially tried to settle with Daley and defended the officer's actions, but NeJame went to trial and won. Despite their differences, NeJame said Demings is a "strong advocate for good law enforcement."


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