The state attorney’s office has decided not to file charges in either of the two firearm incidents at Franklin County High School
In a Jan. 20 memo to Sheriff A.J. Smith, and to Jack Campbell, the state attorney for the 2nd Judicial Circuit, Jarred Patterson, assistant state attorney in Franklin County, outlined his reasons for not pursuing criminal charges against either the high school student found to have a hunting rifle in his truck during a Jan. 13 law enforcement sweep, nor against the adult who discharged a rifle Tuesday afternoon, Jan. 17 while picking up his granddaughter from the elementary school.
According to a report by the sheriff’s office, Dennis Flowers told deputies that he was moving his Ruger Sturm Mini-30 carbine rifle from the front passenger area of his 2007 GMC pick-up to the rear passenger area when the rifle discharged a single round. The bullet traveled through the rear passenger seat and door, hit the sidewalk about six feet away, and ricocheted through the school's common area.
“Mr. Flowers appeared a little shaken and advised he was just thankful nobody got hurt because it could have been worse,” wrote Sgt. Allen Ham.
The reports by Ham and Deputy Larry Smith said Flowers was also in possession of a holstered handgun in the front console area, and a camouflaged Beretta 12-gauge shotgun under the rear seat, neither of which were encased and both of which were loaded with cartridges in their chambers with extra ammunition in the magazines.
Patterson’s decision not to prosecute was based on his application of Florida Statute 790.115 to the matters, which says that a person “may not exhibit” any sword, sword cane, firearm, electric weapon, destructive device or other weapon, including a razor blade, box cutter or pocketknife “in a rude, careless, angry or threatening manner, and not in lawful self-defense” on school grounds.
Patterson wrote that in the case of the rifle firing, “it could be argued that any accidental discharge of a firearm would have to be careless,” but that there was no evidence the individual involved “ever exhibited the firearm in any manner.
“In fact, the firearm never left the interior of the individual’s vehicle,” he wrote. “As a result it is not possible to proceed with criminal charges.”
The assistant state attorney wrote that the same analysis applied in the case of the juvenile having a rifle in the backseat his vehicle while on campus, in that “the firearm was never removed from the vehicle and therefore not exhibited.”
Patterson’s memo goes on to say that a further subsection of the law notes exceptions that allow an individual to carry a firearm, other than a handgun, in a private conveyance such as a vehicle on school property, provided it is for lawful use.
The law allows school districts to waive these exceptions for student and campus parking privileges, but he noted the firearm was not a handgun, that there was no evidence it was being carried for an unlawful purpose, and that the individual was only picking up children and not parking. He said Flowers’ case fell under the exception that allows a firearm to be carried on school grounds.
In the case of the juvenile, the assistant state attorney wrote that because the young man required parking privileges, the matter fell under school board policies that explicitly prohibit a student from carrying a concealed firearm in a school safety zone.
Patterson noted the school board policy does allow for some firearms to be carried under certain circumstances, such as for use in a class presentation, or as part of a firearms program or class, but in no instances can they be loaded. He said the juvenile’s possession of the firearm last week did not fall into any of these permitted categories.
He concluded that “given the facts that the firearm in question was not a handgun, was not concealed, was clearly being used for hunting purposes, was not used or displayed in any type of dangerous or threatening manner, and the juvenile was upfront and fully cooperative with law enforcement, it is the position of this office that this case is most appropriately handled by administrative punishment through the school district and not the filing of criminal charges.
“However it should be noted that this office will continue to apply and enforce Florida statutes as it relates to weapons and/or firearms on school grounds,” Patterson wrote.