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Fla. Department of Law Enforcement asked to verify sheriff’s gun qualification

Sheriff Manfre needs to formally address allegations made by former lieutenant that he passed his gun test due to a beholden subordinate.
Sheriff Manfre needs to formally address allegations made by former lieutenant that he passed his gun test due to a beholden subordinate.
Flagler County Sheriff's Office: Inauguration ceremony YouTube video screen capture

Serious concerns have been raised as to the firearms qualifications of Flagler County Sheriff Jim Manfre by two newspaper reports, Gun Rights Examiner documented on Wednesday. Because of the implications for public safety and to the integrity of the State of Florida’s certification standards, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement is being sent a link to this column, which serves as an open letter.

A career Florida law enforcement officer has made shocking allegations concerning the firearms credentialing of Sheriff Manfre. A July 31 report in The Daytona Beach News-Journal noted “one of his former lieutenants — a one-time firearms instructor the sheriff laid off in 2013 — said Manfre has a history of poor performance firing his agency-issued Glock model 17, a 9 mm semi-automatic pistol.”

Former range master Gregory Weston has charged that Manfre “has ‘no business’ carrying a gun,” and that he certified the sheriff during his first term “under a level of duress.

“You have to understand the circumstances with being out there with the man that signs your paycheck,” Weston told the News-Journal.

Weston weighed in again when it was reported Manfre again passed his firearms certification on August 1.

“Each time he does so it is with no other deputies around, just him and the instructor,” the News-Journal reported Weston claiming. “He supposedly (went) to the range this morning with one of his ‘at-will’ salaried employees to do this? No witnesses? There is no way.”

This raises very serious concerns in terms of public safety as well as to the integrity of the entire certification process and goes to the credibility of Florida Department of Law Enforcement training standards.

It may be that Lt. Weston, who “admits he holds a grudge, but insists his opinion of Manfre’s performance with a firearm is based on firsthand experience and isn’t personal,” is a disgruntled former employee unfairly targeting the sheriff. Or it may be that what he says is true. In the absence of a slander lawsuit, that remains unresolved.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement could take several simple steps to protect public safety and to ensure confidence in its credentialing processes called into question by Lt. Weston’s assertions.

If the form used to certify Sheriff Manfre was the Law Enforcement Officers Firearms Qualification Standard, and per a phone call to FDLE, that is the state standard form used by all, the absence of a witness signature in addition to the signatures of the officer and instructor, is conspicuous. Likewise, there is no cautionary language advising if falsification of the form is punishable under penalty of perjury.

Is it?

Second, FDLE should solicit sworn statements from Lt. Weston, from Sheriff Manfre, and from the current range officer who certified him and assured the News-Journal reporter what a proficient marksman the sheriff is.

With the acknowledgment – if not understanding -- that as an elected civilian granted police powers, the sheriff is not required by the Florida Constitution to demonstrate proficiency with firearms, the integrity of Florida firearms certification for all officers, as well as the safety of all Florida citizens subject to the dangers of encounters with unqualified personnel, will remain in question. Lt. Weston’s remarkable and shocking allegations must be fully investigated, and the department must ensure that all doubts about certifications being earned are resolved.

A former lieutenant and a current sheriff, each implying the other is lying, doesn’t cut it. Whichever way it falls, the public deserves to know the truth.

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