Friday, November 01, 2013

Florida Sheriff Who ‘Nullified’ Concealed Gun Arrest is Acquitted, Reinstated

The rural Florida sheriff whose arrest and trial on misconduct charges became a cause celebre among the “constitutionalists” of the antigovernment Patriot movement this summer was acquitted by a jury yesterday.

Nick Finch, the Liberty County sheriff who was arrested and suspended in June and accused of tampering with the arrest record of a man in custody on a weapon-concealment charge, was found not guilty by a six-person jury in Bristol.

Gov. Rick Scott, who had signed the arrest warrant for Finch and named his interim replacement, immediately announced that Finch would be returned to office. “Sheriff Nick Finch will be reinstated immediately,” Scott announced. “I would like to thank the members of the jury in Liberty County for their service in this trial. I would also like to thank Interim Sheriff Buddy Money for his service to the state of Florida.”

Finch was arrested after an incident in March in which one of his deputies arrested a man for carrying a concealed weapon during a traffic pullover. After the man’s mug shot was taken, Finch arrived at the jail with one of the man’s relatives, told his deputies to stop the procedures, released the suspect, and then allegedly walked away with the records that had already been generated. He told investigators he let the man go because he was protecting his Second Amendment rights, but he was charged with official misconduct for allegedly destroying the records.

The case attracted the interest of the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, the organization run by longtime Patriot movement figure Richard Mack, who made Finch’s arrest a fundraising issue. Mack organized a legal-defense fund for the sheriff and warned his followers: “If Sheriff Finch is found guilty in this case, the most unjustified and frivolous trial in history, then we are all in trouble and could be suspects in any incident!”

Similarly, the conspiracy-minded Oath Keepers adopted Finch’s cause and organized fundraisers for his legal defense as well. The John Birch Society’s newsmagazine warned readers that “Freedom of speech, federalism, the right to keep and bear arms, and the right of the people to govern themselves through free elections are under assault in Florida.”

Much of the trial in Bristol centered around whether Finch had actually broken the law by whiting out the suspect’s name from the booking records. Finch claimed that the arrest records state officials alleged he walked away with never existed – and no one was able to prove otherwise.

Finch, meanwhile, acknowledged that he was practicing a kind of nullification of state law when he ordered the man’s release. He told the jury that he did not believe in enforcing the state’s concealment statutes, because he believed that Second Amendment rights trumped those laws.

The state prosecutor, Jack Campbell, questioned Finch on that point: “Don’t you agree that the Second Amendment doesn’t give you the power to pick and choose which laws you’re going to enforce and which laws you’re going to not enforce?”

Finch answered: “The Second Amendment is very specific to keeping and bearing arms, Mr. Campbell. You’re talking about many laws. What I believe is the Second Amendment requires me to make a decision based on that Second Amendment as to whether I’m going to go forward with the state charges. Yes, I think the Constitution has to mean something at some point, Mr. Campbell.”

There was no immediate response from Mack or his organization. A spokesman for an Oath Keepers unit in Florida posted on the organization’s blog: “This is a great day for Liberty and Freedom. This is a perfect example for the rest of the Sheriff’s [sic] in the state of Florida and in the United States that the Constitution still has authority in this country not the feds or any other state agency that thinks they can take our Sheriffs [sic] authority away.”

Cross-posted at Hatewatch.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Trial of Florida Sheriff on Misconduct Charge Draws Wrath of ‘Constitutional Sheriffs’ and Oath Keepers

The trial of a Florida sheriff on a charge of official misconduct is attracting the attention of so-called “constitutional sheriffs” and the far-right Oath Keepers, who claim that the sheriff – Nick Finch of Liberty County – was only standing up for the Second Amendment when he “nullified” the arrest of a citizen on a concealed-weapon charge.

Those activists see the Finch trial as a showdown between their “constitutionalist” belief that the county sheriff is the highest authority in the nation and state and federal authorities intent on imposing their “tyranny” on the citizenry. In reality, Finch was arrested for allegedly tampering with the arrest record of a man on a concealment charge because he believed enforcing the law violated the Second Amendment.

Finch was arrested in June by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and charged with one count of official misconduct, a third-degree felony, for having “destroyed or removed official arrest documents” and making it appear an arrest had never occurred, including whiting out the suspect’s name in the booking log. His trial in Bristol began today.

Finch, 50, first elected in 2012, has been suspended and could be permanently removed from office.
The incident that sparked his arrest occurred on March 8, when a Liberty County deputy pulled over a Bristol man named Floyd Parrish on suspicion of drunken driving. While searching the man’s car, the deputy found a pistol hidden inside his pocket. Parrish had no concealed-weapon permit, so he wound up under arrest at the county jailhouse.

According to the arrest warrant (pdf), at that point Sheriff Finch – who had never met Parrish – entered the holding cell with Parrish’s brother. He then took possession of the arrest file and told the booking sergeant to release Parrish and not file any charges. The man’s mug shot had, apparently, already been taken and his name entered into the arrest log. The arrest log entry was later whited out by someone, though no one is certain who did so. Video tapes of the arrest and subsequent release of Parrish were later recorded over.

After Finch’s arrest in June, his case drew the attention of Richard Mack, the erstwhile Arizona sheriff who now runs the far-right Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, an organization that draws its beliefs in the supremacy of the county sheriffs from old, anti-Semitic Posse Comitatus ideology. Also attracted to the cause were the conspiracy-minded Oath Keepers, who organized a fundraiser for Finch’s legal defense in August.

Finch’s case has become a fundraising draw for Sheriff Mack, who sent out an e-mail alert this week asking for help to support Finch. “Sheriff Finch did exactly what all of us have been hoping and praying for now for so many years; he nullified a gun charge and the arrest of a law-abiding citizen,” the e-mail said. “So the State, under the direction of one corrupt deputy Attorney General (Willie Meggs) with complicity of an equally corrupt FL Governor, actually arrested and removed from office the duly elected Sheriff of Liberty County, Florida.”

Finch himself has remained defiant while attracting support from a number of “constitutionalists.” He told an interviewer for the John Birch Society organ The New American that there was no chance he would stop fighting the charge: “Never! I will take this case all the way to the Supreme Court.”

Finch is fairly clear about his motives, telling the interviewer: “When I ordered him released from the holding cell I say that he has a right to carry a gun under the Second Amendment, and so I let him go.” Asked what prompted that step, he answered: “My beliefs and my stand on the Second Amendment.”

He also made clear his view of his obligations: “My only obligation is to the Constitution and I will continue to act according to my oath and that duty.”

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, has been besieged by Sheriff Finch’s supporters. One report shortly after Finch’s arrest noted that Scott had received 1,326 e-mails, and only three of those supported the charges. Several writers suggested Scott resign because of the arrest, claiming it proved he opposed the Second Amendment.

Cross-posted at Hatewatch.

Dodging 'Blackfish': What Sea World Doesn't Want You To Know

Memo to the honchos at Sea World: You know that you are in a world of hurt when Newt Gingrich, of all people, starts to lecture you about your total lack of transparency, as he did the other night on CNN while discussing the stunning documentary 'Blackfish':
GINGRICH: Let me -- let me say, let me say, first of all, because I think the audience probably is curious about this. I want people to know that I'm disappointed that SeaWorld isn't representing itself. I'm delighted to have somebody as professional and as competent as Greg, but SeaWorld's a huge institution. This is a very important movie that raises some very troubling questions.
They did release a statement. They said, "The film paints a distorted picture that withholds from viewers key facts about SeaWorld, among them that SeaWorld is one of the world's most respected zoological institutions, that SeaWorld rescues, rehabilitates and returns to the wild hundreds of wild animals every year, and that SeaWorld commits millions of dollars annually to conservation and scientific research.

Now, I thought we ought to say that in fairness, but let me also say personally, I would like to extend an invitation to SeaWorld, to have a representative come and be on the show one night. Because I think, as a multi-billion-dollar institution, they owe the country some level of transparency and some level of accountability. And I am disappointed that they're not here tonight.
Of course, there's a reason Sea World wouldn't come on CNN to talk about 'Blackfish' and instead was content to hide behind blanket and nonresponsive PR statements: The facts are not on their side.

As Tim Zimmerman, the film's co-producer, observed to the 'Crossfire' panel:
So they refused to participate in the movie. We tried endlessly to try to get them to provide their side of the story. And it's a little bit ironic to complain that the movie is distorted if, you know, you yourself refused to come forward and to present your point of view. So I don't really think that's a very fair criticism of the movie.
Sea World's hunker-down strategy was a catastrophic failure: Not only did CNN clean up in the network ratings thanks to 'Blackfish,' but the film was also the talk of Twitter through the weekend.

And it was also painfully obvious, if you watched the film, that Sea World's statement was a blizzard of irrelevancies and nonsequiturs designed to keep audiences from thinking too hard about the real issue the film raises: Namely, is keeping these large and intelligent animals captive the right thing to do?

As the blogger Cetacean Inspiration observes:
The ethics of keeping killer whales in captivity is totally irrelevant to conservation and rescue programs. Using these programs to justify killer whale captivity is a bit like defending an abusive person because they volunteer at a soup kitchen. The two are not related. Just because someone does something “good” does not mean that they are excused to do something evil.
So, Sea World folks, with your stock value plummeting and your Facebook page filled with angry cancellations, you really, really need to rethink your strategy. You do have a chance to come out ahead -- but only if you actually were to embrace the conservation ethic you claim to be teaching kids.

Naomi Rose, in fact, has a perfect plan: Begin a program of rehabilitation for the 13 wild-born orcas now in captivity with an eye toward releasing them in the wild, and involve the public every step of the way. Sell tickets. Warm hearts. Demonstrate that you really do have the animals' best interests at heart. Because no one believes that you do now.

As Rose observes:
The marine theme parks can shift with the paradigm or be left behind -- it is up to them.

Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.