WEST PALM BEACH, FLORIDA – A lawsuit resulting from a 2013 incident involving the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office has been given the green light to proceed by the Florida Fourth District Court of Appeal.
Three years ago, a relative of John Dougan contacted the Sheriff’s Office asking for someone to check on Dougan. As a result of the visit, Dougan had his legally purchased and licensed firearms confiscated while law enforcement officials verified his psychological state.
Dougan was never arrested and was cleared to retrieve his weapons. When he attempted to do so, however, he was told by the sheriff’s department that he would need a court order permitting the return. Dougan responded by subsequently obtaining the court order, filing a lawsuit for wrongful damages for essentially making him buy his guns back, and asking for an injunction against the department in order to halt an alleged erroneous practice.
In a prior statement concerning the case, the Cord Byrd law firm, representing Dougan, stated that Florida law "did not require or permit the sheriff to retain appellant's (Dougan's) firearms in response to a safety call which did not result in a criminal investigation or charges” but that “the sheriff had a policy of retaining firearms which was not authorized by an existing statute and enforced it against appellant.”
In an interview with the Florida Record, attorney Cord Byrd of the eponymous firm said the lawsuit and injunction were cleared to proceed by the Fourth District Court of Appeal recently after it rejected the arguments of the sheriff's defense team. Lewis, Stroud & Deutsch PL, the firm representing the sheriff’s office, was contacted by the Record for their response to the lawsuit, but was told “no comment.” A similar request was sent to the sheriff’s department, who responded via email: “This case is still in litigation. As a general rule the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office does not comment on active litigation.”
“We’ve won already and now it’s just up to the jury to decide on damages.” Byrd told the Record.
Despite the injunction, attorney Byrd states that the sheriff continues to violate Florida State Statute 790.33, "Field of regulation of firearms and ammunition preempted," which prevents law enforcement agencies from crafting firearm regulations that contradict state law.
Such action, Byrd told the Florida Record, could be considered a “willful violation” by the sheriff's department, leaving officials susceptible to “removal from office and being personally responsible for the payment of damages” to Dougan.
Instead of ignoring the ruling and injunction, Byrd said those at the sheriff’s department should take their issues to the Legislature. The hesitancy by the sheriff in conceding wrongdoing is due, Byrd says, to the politics of the gun issue.
“No one wants to be responsible for guns,” Byrd said. He went on to say that he believes the sheriff’s office does not want to be the scapegoat for following a law that might result in the commission of a crime.
That, however, is not a pass acceptable to Dougan’s attorney. “They are constitutional officers,” Byrd said “and have to follow the law.”