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Sheriff Nick Finch Trial Under Way: He’s Accused of Destroying Documents to Protect a Gun Owner

| October 28, 2013

The River Styx runs through Finch Country: Liberty County. (State Archives of Florida)

The River Styx runs through Finch Country: Liberty County. (State Archives of Florida)

In a case that has drawn heavy attention from gun-rights supporters, a jury was seated Monday in a rural North Florida county as Gov. Rick Scott continues to receive requests to reinstate a suspended sheriff accused of destroying public jail records.

While prosecutors believe the trial of suspended Sheriff Nick Finch can be concluded in a single day, Circuit Judge William Gary has blocked out three days — Tuesday through Thursday — for the testimony and arguments on the second floor of the Liberty County Courthouse.

Yellow police tape has been strung around the front lawn of the courthouse as a protest rally is expected Tuesday morning in support of Finch and the Second Amendment. The tape would help separate the protest from the front entrance of the courthouse.

Finch, 51, faces a felony charge of official misconduct and a misdemeanor charge of falsifying public records. A Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation found that Finch on March 8 released a local man who had been arrested for carrying a concealed firearm, a third degree felony, and altered or destroyed corresponding documents.

Finch declined to comment Monday but said he would “have plenty to talk about” when the trial was completed.

Scott suspended Finch on June 4 and later named Walter Lee “Buddy” Money, Jr., 57, the victims’ advocate for the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office, to be interim sheriff. State Attorney Willie Meggs sat through jury selection with Assistant State Attorney Jack Campbell.

“It’s an important case, we don’t prosecute sheriffs very often,” Meggs said.

Finch’s arrest continues to draw criticism for Scott as recent emails to the governor imply the suspension could hurt his re-election and the image of the Republican Party.

The suspended sheriff’s defenders argue that Finch was standing up for the Second Amendment in releasing the man arrested on the concealed-firearm charge and that the case isn’t about making it appear as though an arrest never occurred.

Finch told the investigating officer from the FDLE he acted because he “believed in Second Amendment rights.”

While questioning jurors, defense attorney Jimmy Judkins asked if they were aware that law enforcement officers have the discretion not to file charges when they stop someone for committing an offense such as speeding, and he asked if they believed prior sheriffs in the county had made similar decisions.

Attending the jury selection were a number of “Oath Keepers” who back Finch, many brandishing copies of the U.S. Constitution to affirm their support for the Second Amendment.

Ex-Sheriff Nick Finch

Ex-Sheriff Nick Finch

The case has also recently drawn the interest of state Rep. Halsey Beshears, R-Monticello, who in a letter Thursday to Scott expressed “reservations” about the investigation and requested a new prosecutor.

“While it is critical to conduct a full investigation and proceed based on the facts,” Beshears wrote, “my sincerest fear is that upon completion of the work, the actual actions being investigated will become subordinate to the sacrosanct protections of our Second Amendment rights, a fundamental right which is engrained into the fabric of our nation and state.”

John Tupps, a spokesman for the governor’s office, said Monday that the matter is before the court and the jury “will review all of the evidence and make an impartial decision.”

Meggs in a more terse reply said, “I think Rep. Beshears should remain a legislator and not get involved in the prosecution of cases.”

The six-member jury, along with two alternates, consists of two men and six women. A major admitted to having guns in their homes. Most are acquainted with some of the nearly 30 individuals who have been listed as potential witnesses for the state or defense.

More than 300 people from the rural county west of Tallahassee were summoned for jury selection, but only about 25 were questioned for the panel.

Those questioned were first brought one at a time into a side room of the courtroom for questions by the judge, Campbell and Finch’s attorneys Judkins and Larry Simpson.

Most of the potential jurors said they could have an open mind to decide the case, even a few who noted they were loosely related or knew through school or other activities people involved in the case.

Almost all acknowledged there has been a lot of talk in the community about the dismissal of the sheriff.

““This is a small county, to say you haven’t talked about it wouldn’t be true,” said one potential juror.

“I’ve talked to 300 people (about the case), this has been going on since March,” said another potential juror who described himself as a car and cement salesman.

A few who were quickly dismissed said they had already made up their minds.

“I feel like he hasn’t done anything the sheriff before him hasn’t’ done,” one prospective juror said.

–Jim Turner, News Service of Florida

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6 Responses for “Sheriff Nick Finch Trial Under Way: He’s Accused of Destroying Documents to Protect a Gun Owner”

  1. NortonSmitty says:

    “I feel like he hasn’t done anything the sheriff before him hasn’t’ done,” one prospective juror said.

  2. A.S.F. says:

    …So much for the specious argument, put forward by the NRA and all those gun nuts (excuse me–“second amendment supporters”), that we don’t need to consider any more regulation of gun sales and weapons possession because there are already enough laws on the books to keep us safe.They aren’t even willing to support the laws we already have on the books and will rally to the defense of those who would break them.

    • Anonymous says:

      Not affiliated with NRA or a “gun nut” but if you will explain how we are going to get the guns out of the hands of those with criminal intent I will be glad to support regulation of gun sales and weapons possession. I sincerely doubt that either of these will even slow down the process of gangs and others who use guns to commit crimes to obtain guns. Give me the details.

  3. truth monitor says:

    I am a gun advocate. .But if ex-Sheriff Finch destroyed public jail records to deceive and protect a friend he is a criminal. All this crap about the second amendment is OK. But for his actions he should go to trial and let the public hear more from him. He should not be reinstated because he has lost the public trust when he can decide who to punish and who will not. This is not a second amendment issue it is a criminal one.

  4. TheAmerican says:

    A GREAT victory for constitution lovers EVERYWHERE!

    Jury finds Liberty Co. Sheriff Nick Finch …. Not Guilty.

    Jury took only 90 minutes to acquit … they saw through this attempt of political assassination by a corrupt judicial system.

    On FACEBOOK ……….search………. Support for Liberty County Sheriff Nick Finch

  5. A.S.F. says:

    This is anything BUT a victory for those of us who love the Constitution and feel revolted by those who would use it to cover their own a**es, like Sheriff Finch. He was acquitted by a jury of his own peers, alright. That doesn’t say much for his peers, or for Liberty County in general. When a police officer can break the law, and then lie and deceive to cover up it up, and be called a hero for it, we, in the State of Florida, are really showing what we are made of…and it isn’t good. Just think of what this says to our children!

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