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Law enforcement uses Florida red flag law 100 times in Orange County



In the four years since Florida’s ‘red flag’ law has been in effect, law enforcement agencies have used it more than 100 times in Orange County, including in a few cases involving their own officers and deputies. The law was passed after the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland and is designed to keep people who are a danger to themselves or others from possessing or buying firearms. If a final risk protection order is approved by a judge, it lasts for one year. Apopka police have filed close to 20 red flag cases. “It’s not the ‘end all, be all’ to all situations, but it is a tool for us to use and to consider when we’re dealing with people who might be dealing with mental health or substance abuse problems,” said Apopka police Chief Michael McKinley. “Our hope is that while we have the firearms that they’ll seek and get the treatment they need to get them out of whatever mental health episode they may be experiencing, chemical dependency, or anything else.” WESH 2 News went through the court files of every case in Orange County. Some of the more than 100 cases have made headlines, including a Winter Park man who was accused of making online posts about carrying out a mass killing at a Walmart in the days after a shooting in an El Paso, Texas, store. University of Central Florida police requested and were given a risk protection order for a student who allegedly had a fully automatic AR-15 on campus. But other cases attracted much less attention. They include: A man wearing a bulletproof vest while bringing another man in handcuffs to Apopka police headquarters where he wanted to ‘turn him in.’ A 20-year-old man who repeatedly told people, including an Orange County deputy, that he planned to ‘kill a lot of people’ at Freedom High School in Orlando. A man who believed his electronics had been hacked and people were planning to kill his family, so he held a court process server at gunpoint at an apartment complex. An ROTC member at UCF whose erratic behavior worried classmates so much that the instructor ‘canceled tests, events and changed class protocol due to fear this student would bring violence to the university.’ Also among the cases are at least three involving members of law enforcement. One was an Orange County deputy accused of domestic violence. The Orlando Police Department also requested risk protection orders against two of its own officers, one of whom sent a text to his wife saying he planned to ‘put on my dress blues and end this (expletive).’ Nearly every case involved someone suffering mental health issues, depression or suicidal thoughts. Many also made threats to harm family members or law enforcement. Attorney Kendra Parris has represented many people trying to keep their guns in red flag cases and won several of them. She’s argued many parts of the law are too vague. “When you give law enforcement and courts unfettered discretion, people get hurt then too,” Parris told WESH 2. Parris argues that laws that existed previously, including domestic violence injunctions and the Baker Act, should already prevent many potentially dangerous people from having access to guns. The red flag law, she says, cuts too close to Second Amendment rights, without doing much to prevent a mass shooting. “I think that they can potentially prevent some suicides, could potentially prevent some domestic violence situations, but that isn’t how they were sold to the public,” Parris said. One Orange County case also demonstrates the limitations in the law: in April 2019, Apopka police asked for a risk protection order for Pablo Tavarez, a man who neighbors had reported was firing a gun into the air while walking down the street. But later that year, Tavarez was arrested by the Orange County Sheriff’s Office for allegedly murdering two women whose bodies were found under a tarp behind a church. Investigators believe at least one of the killings happened after a temporary order had been issued. McKinley also believes the law should be changed to put more emphasis on treatment. “The problem is there’s no follow up,” McKinley said. “There’s no requirement that they continue or receive counseling while we have their firearm, and nothing that says they’ve received the treatment that they need in order to have the firearm back. So, when the RPO is done, or the courts order us to give it back, we have to give the firearm back.”

In the four years since Florida’s ‘red flag’ law has been in effect, law enforcement agencies have used it more than 100 times in Orange County, including in a few cases involving their own officers and deputies.

The law was passed after the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland and is designed to keep people who are a danger to themselves or others from possessing or buying firearms. If a final risk protection order is approved by a judge, it lasts for one year.

Apopka police have filed close to 20 red flag cases.

“It’s not the ‘end all, be all’ to all situations, but it is a tool for us to use and to consider when we’re dealing with people who might be dealing with mental health or substance abuse problems,” said Apopka police Chief Michael McKinley. “Our hope is that while we have the firearms that they’ll seek and get the treatment they need to get them out of whatever mental health episode they may be experiencing, chemical dependency, or anything else.”

WESH 2 News went through the court files of every case in Orange County. Some of the more than 100 cases have made headlines, including a Winter Park man who was accused of making online posts about carrying out a mass killing at a Walmart in the days after a shooting in an El Paso, Texas, store. University of Central Florida police requested and were given a risk protection order for a student who allegedly had a fully automatic AR-15 on campus.

But other cases attracted much less attention. They include:

  • A man wearing a bulletproof vest while bringing another man in handcuffs to Apopka police headquarters where he wanted to ‘turn him in.’
  • A 20-year-old man who repeatedly told people, including an Orange County deputy, that he planned to ‘kill a lot of people’ at Freedom High School in Orlando.
  • A man who believed his electronics had been hacked and people were planning to kill his family, so he held a court process server at gunpoint at an apartment complex.
  • An ROTC member at UCF whose erratic behavior worried classmates so much that the instructor ‘canceled tests, events and changed class protocol due to fear this student would bring violence to the university.’

Also among the cases are at least three involving members of law enforcement. One was an Orange County deputy accused of domestic violence. The Orlando Police Department also requested risk protection orders against two of its own officers, one of whom sent a text to his wife saying he planned to ‘put on my dress blues and end this (expletive).’

Nearly every case involved someone suffering mental health issues, depression or suicidal thoughts. Many also made threats to harm family members or law enforcement.

Attorney Kendra Parris has represented many people trying to keep their guns in red flag cases and won several of them. She’s argued many parts of the law are too vague.

“When you give law enforcement and courts unfettered discretion, people get hurt then too,” Parris told WESH 2.

Parris argues that laws that existed previously, including domestic violence injunctions and the Baker Act, should already prevent many potentially dangerous people from having access to guns. The red flag law, she says, cuts too close to Second Amendment rights, without doing much to prevent a mass shooting.

“I think that they can potentially prevent some suicides, could potentially prevent some domestic violence situations, but that isn’t how they were sold to the public,” Parris said.

One Orange County case also demonstrates the limitations in the law: in April 2019, Apopka police asked for a risk protection order for Pablo Tavarez, a man who neighbors had reported was firing a gun into the air while walking down the street.

But later that year, Tavarez was arrested by the Orange County Sheriff’s Office for allegedly murdering two women whose bodies were found under a tarp behind a church. Investigators believe at least one of the killings happened after a temporary order had been issued.

McKinley also believes the law should be changed to put more emphasis on treatment.

“The problem is there’s no follow up,” McKinley said. “There’s no requirement that they continue or receive counseling while we have their firearm, and nothing that says they’ve received the treatment that they need in order to have the firearm back. So, when the RPO is done, or the courts order us to give it back, we have to give the firearm back.”



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