Florida Carry, Inc. — the state’s largest and most active gun rights organization — in a letter to Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, is demanding a statewide investigation into “law enforcement’s illegal abuse, misuse, and general operation of the FINDER database including the compilation of lists of gun owners, and illegal retention of records.”
“There are felonies being committed by the Charlotte County Sheriff and, possibly, by other sheriffs throughout the state,” said Sean Caranna, founder and executive director of Florida Carry, Inc.
Charlotte County Sheriff Bill Prummell did not return calls or emails seeking comment for this story.
Created in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the FINDER database allows law enforcement agencies to house and share low-level intelligence data over a secure statewide network — when allowed by law.
The data includes persons, vehicle and pawn shop information — including personal information about gun owners who have pawned firearms. However, the personal information of gun owners is not shareable through the database, because keeping lists of firearms owners is expressly forbidden by Florida statute:
No state governmental agency or local government, special district, or other political subdivision or official, agent, or employee of such state or other governmental entity or any other person, public or private, shall knowingly and willfully keep or cause to be kept any list, record, or registry of privately owned firearms or any list, record, or registry of the owners of those firearms: 790.335, Fla. Stat.
FINDER has a control button for sharing information with other agencies. This function has been disabled for firearms data, Caranna explained. He also provided copies of several emails Sheriff Prummell had sent that contained this sensitive gun owner data.
“What they’re doing is sending the data to an internal email, and then using the email to send to other agencies,” Caranna said. “They’re bypassing the legal safety protocols built into FINDER.”
According to Florida Carry’s letter, they first made the Attorney General aware of their concerns about the FINDER database in February. through an email sent to Chief Deputy Attorney General John Guard.
Eric Friday, Florida Carry’s general counsel, wrote that he spoke with Guard and told him of “ongoing
violation of Sec. 790.335, Fla. Stat. by the Sheriff of Charlotte County,” as well as his concerns that ” other sheriffs around the state might also be in violation of that statute.”
On February 27, 2019, I sent Mr. Guard an email to follow up on our conversation. In my email I provided evidence that the Charlotte County Sheriff was in violation of Sec. 790.335. The email included a request that all 67 Sheriff s offices in the state be investigated to determine if they were maintaining similar records in violation of state law,” Friday wrote. “Mr. Guard later notified me that FDLE would be investigating the issue. I never received any response from FDLE through April 29, 2019.
In May, Friday received a notice that the State Attorney for the 20th Judicial Circuit, which includes Charlotte County, had investigated a similar complaint against the Charlotte County Sheriff and “determined there was not wrongdoing by the Sheriff.” This investigation was conducted by Assistant State Attorney Anthony Kunasek, who heads the Special Prosecutions Unit of the 20th Circuit.
On May 7, Friday emailed ASA Kunasek, detailing “exact violations of the law that were occurring.”
1. The use of the FINDER program to provide law enforcement with personally identifuing information of any person who pawned a firearm;
2. The use of the FINDER program for purposes other than those provided for by law;
3. Data mining the FINDER database to create lists of firearms owners who had sold or pawned a firearm;
4. The list of firearms owners being emailed to avoid the automatic deletion of information required by the terms of Florida law;
5. The searchability of old records that had been illegally preserved to determine whether an individual owned or had previously owned firearms; and
6. The fact that the FINDER program should not have as a capability or requirement, the transmission of personally identifying information to local law enforcement.
Kunasek, again, took no action.
“The fact that Mr. Kunasek could reach such an opinion with the evidence and law laid out for him demonstrates the necessity that these violations be investigated by an independent prosecutor,” Friday wrote. “One who is not beholden to local law enforcement and will not be required to work with the local department that is breaking the law on an ongoing basis.”
Friday spelled out that it is Florida Carry’s opinion that the pawn shop information is being used to obtain personal information on Florida gun owners, which violates state law. He also pointed out that the data is being retained beyond the time allowed by law.
“The right of gun owners not to be on government registration lists is clear in Chapter 790 Florida Statutes. Despite those protections it appears that at least one sheriff’s office is violating those rights and is being protected by the local SAO,” Friday wrote. “Florida Carry expects that the Attorney General of Florida will faithfully execute and enforce the laws of Florida regardless of who is breaking them. We call on you to launch an immediate investigation of these lawbreakers regardless of their positions of power.”