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.