BRISTOL, Fla. (AP) – Nick Finch, an Army veteran and onetime cop, narrowly won his election as sheriff of tiny Liberty County some seven months ago. Now this Panhandle county, which has slightly more than 8,000 residents, is reeling with the news that Finch has been arrested and accused of official misconduct.
Finch, 50, is accused of intervening in March after one of his deputies arrested a resident for carrying a semi-automatic pistol in his pocket without a concealed weapons permit. The arrest came following a traffic stop.
State authorities investigating the case say Finch let the man, Floyd Eugene Parrish, leave the county jail in Bristol and that Finch took steps to conceal the initial arrest. Someone, for example, whited out an arrest log that contained Parrish’s name.
According to an arrest report, Finch told sheriff’s department employees that he let Parrish go because he believes in “Second Amendment rights.”
Finch was arrested and booked Tuesday, but then let go on his own recognizance. He declined to speak to the Associated Press a day later, citing advice from his attorney.
Jimmy Judkins, a Tallahassee attorney representing Finch, said his client will fight the charges and that he disputes allegations that he destroyed or altered documents. He said that Finch let Parrish go based on his view of the state’s concealed weapons law.
Efforts to reach Parrish were unsuccessful. One of his brothers, Robert Parrish, declined to answer questions about what happened.
News and pictures of Finch’s arrest were splashed across the two small papers that serve this county located about 40 miles west of Tallahassee.
Major crimes are rare here as evidenced by the fact that Finch’s arraignment won’t happen until July because felony cases are only heard once a month.
Several residents were unwilling to discuss the case publicly, other than to note that they didn’t know all the facts or what exactly happened.
One long-time resident, Alma Sanders, described Finch as a nice man.
“I hope it’s all a misunderstanding,” said the 88-year-old Sanders who has lived in Liberty County for most of her life. “We need a good sheriff.”
Finch’s election as sheriff came after his second try. 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 last fall with no party affiliation. That allowed him to bypass a heated primary that included two other Democrats and incumbent Donnie Conyers.
Finch edged Conyers by less than 200 votes in November.
Gov. Rick Scott has appointed Carl Causey as interim sheriff for the next month. Causey, an FDLE special agent, previously worked for the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office.