Florida Record

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Court backs deputies on using biker photos while lobbying against open-carry

By Amanda Thomas | Apr 12, 2018

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JACKSONVILLE — The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit has ruled in favor of two Orange County sheriff's deputies who used photos of motorcycle club members in lobbying against a proposed open-carry law.

In an 11-page ruling, the three-judge panel sided with Michael A. Fewless, former captain of the governmental affairs section of the Orange County Sheriff's Office, and John McMahan, an intelligence agent who selected and emailed 22 photos to him.

In 2011, the officers pulled together driver's license photos of motorcycle club members who possessed concealed carry permits and would be able to carry their weapons openly if a broad open-carry bill passed. Fewless selected "seven photos he thought best personified the negative impact open carry would have in Florida."

In the end, lawmakers didn't approve the bill and the photos led to a lawsuit brought by three members of the Outlaws Motorcycle Club -- Leslie Baas, Tracy Osteen and Doyle Napier -- alleging the officers violated the Driver's Privacy Protection Act. 

The plaintiffs argued the way the photos were used wasn't legitimate, saying Fewless and McMahan shared the photos "with the intention of creating 'poster children' for denial of a bill the defendants disliked, took it upon themselves to expose the 'highly protected' information of private persons who were believed to be law abiding."

In its decision, the judges considered whether an exception included government agencies being able to use the information for lobbying purposes. The appeals court affirmed a lower court ruling saying that it does. The court also concluded that Fewless had been representing the sheriff's office when he provided the photos to senators and staff members and when he referred to them during a committee meeting.

"Thus, the distribution of the photos related directly to Fewless' lobbying efforts," said the opinion written by Judge Harvey E. Schlesinger and joined by Judges Charles R. Wilson and Susan H. Black.

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Organizations in this Story

Orange County Sheriff's OfficeU.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit Jacksonville Florida Division