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Prosecutors accuse Panhandle sheriff of cover-up

October 29, 2013
Associated Press

BRISTOL, Fla. (AP) — A prosecutor told jurors Tuesday at the misconduct trial of suspended Liberty County Sheriff Nick Finch that he sought to orchestrate a cover-up of his decision to intervene in a gun case in the small, rural county.

But Finch's attorney told jurors during opening trial statements in Bristol, the county seat some 40 miles west of Tallahassee, that the state had little proof to back allegations that Finch destroyed or altered public records in the case.

Finch was arrested in June on felony charges of official misconduct and falsifying public records and subsequently suspended by Gov. Rick Scott. The arrest followed an investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement into Finch's handling of the March arrest of Floyd Eugene Parrish in a gun case.

Authorities said Parrish was arrested following a traffic stop because he did not have a concealed weapons permit for the .25 caliber pistol he had in his pocket. Parrish left the jail hours later after Finch came to the jail with Parrish's two brothers and ordered that Floyd Parrish be released.

Defense attorney Jimmy Judkins asserted that Finch's decision to release Parrish from jail after Parrish had been arrested was because Finch believed the charges against Parrish clashed with rights in the U.S. Constitution.

"He thinks he was protecting and defending the 2nd Amendment," Judkins told jurors.

Parrish, 58, testified on Tuesday that he often carried the gun on his own property — a large rural tract in the southern part of the county — in case he needed to alert his girlfriend that he was in trouble while he was working. He said he kept the gun in his pocket when he drove over to his brother's house.

Jurors also on Tuesday heard from the deputy who arrested Parrish as well as other people who worked at the jail.

The trial — which is scheduled to last until Thursday — will likely revolve on whether or not jurors believe that Finch asked for and then destroyed records connected to Parrish's arrest. Someone also whited out the jail log.

Assistant State Attorney Jack Campbell said that Finch made a decision to destroy the records in order to make sure that no one knew what "truly happened" the day of Parrish's arrest.

"The issue is whether he allowed a cover up or altered the paperwork that told the truth," Campbell said.

But Judkins said testimony would show that it had been common practice to white out the Liberty County jail log in the past.

Finch, an Army veteran and onetime police officer, won his election as sheriff by less than 200 votes in November 2012. Previously, he ran as a Republican in 2008 and lost even though GOP presidential nominee John McCain carried the county.

The county's election supervisor said that Finch became a Democrat but ran in 2012 with no party affiliation. That allowed him to bypass a heated primary that included two other Democrats and incumbent Donnie Conyers.

The case has split tiny Liberty County — which has slightly more than 8,000 residents.

Finch's trial also has resulted in angry emails being sent to Scott. He also has received requests that he replace the prosecutors handling the case and reinstate Finch as sheriff.

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