Sarasota County Sheriff and Circuit Court Judge at odds over concealed weapons

SARASOTA, Fla. (WFLA) – Sarasota County Sheriff Tom Knight and Circuit Court Judge Charles Williams are at odds over allowing concealed weapons inside government offices.

The sheriff wants to allow concealed weapons into government buildings, but the judge is ordering him to stop.

Inside the Sarasota County Judicial Center, the security equipment sits unused. Sheriff Tom Knight recently removed his deputies from this security checkpoint.

Last month, State Senator Greg Steube tried to walk into the Clerk of Courts office with a concealed weapon, but was denied.

Steube argued that violates the Florida constitution. He said Section 790.06 of the Florida statutes says concealed weapons aren’t allowed in courtrooms, but Steube said they should be allowed in government offices.

Sheriff Knight agreed, and after consulting legal counsel, he removed deputies from security checkpoints.

In an email, Sheriff’s Office Senior Assistant General Counsel Patrick Duggan wrote, “People do not forgo their Second Amendment rights in order to conduct lawful government business.”

He added, “I question the constitutionality of screening people for concealed weapons without suspicion, when they can lawfully carry them with a permit to the locations.”

In response, Circuit Court Judge Charles Williams issued an administrative order, commanding Sheriff Knight to reinstate the deputies by 5 p.m. Monday, March 6.

Sheriff Knight responded saying he would not do so. Knight said the administrative order was “overreaching” and would order the sheriff “to act in a way that encroaches upon the second and fourth Amendment rights of citizens and exposes myself, and most importantly my deputies, to personal liability.”

“We believe it’s in violation of the constitution. And equally as important to the sheriff is the personal liability on his deputies, so if you’re a line level deputy out there, and you stop somebody, you could be sued in an individual capacity,” said Col. Kurt Hoffman with the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office.

“Public funds cannot be used to defend those officers, so they’re going to have to pay for that out of their pocket. That’s some exposure the sheriff is not willing to take,” Hoffman added.

Senator Steube was shocked the circuit judge gave this new administrative order.

“I don’t view that order as lawful and I also view that as the judiciary writing law, which is not appropriate. It violates the separation of powers in our constitution,” said State Senator Greg Steube.

Sheriff Knight said he’s standing his ground, aware that he could be found in contempt of court.

“We’ve had several conversations and he’s prepared to do whatever is necessary to protect his people from personal liability and protect his citizens’ civil liberties,” said Col. Hoffman.

Senator Steube said it’s possible the judge could be fined or removed from office for making an unconstitutional administrative order.

The sheriff’s office is now asking the District Court of Appeals to weigh in on this issue, so the 12th Circuit Court will wait for the district judge’s answer.

Twelfth Judicial Circuit Court Administrator Walt Smith said in a statement: “The court recognizes the continuing obligation to protect citizens who are entering these buildings to conduct court business; therefore, the Twelfth Circuit Court is reviewing all of its courthouse locations to take reasonable and necessary steps to protect the public pending a resolution from the Appellate Court.”

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