Polk County cracks down on gun owners — a specific type, though.

BARTOW – In a state where gun rights are strongly protected, the Polk County Sheriff’s Office is taking aim at a particular group and hoping to remove any guns they might have in their homes – even if the gun owner feels the weapon is needed to protect himself and his family.

“Whether you think you need it for protection or not, it doesn’t matter, and we have no sympathy for you,” said Scott H. Wilder, director of communications for the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.

Weapons owned by convicted felons are the target of a new tips program launched by the Polk County Sheriff's Office.

The group in question, though, may not draw much sympathy from the public: convicted felons, who face stiff penalties if they’re caught in possession of any weapons. The only exception is when the felon has had his rights restored by the convicting state.
“That’s just the punishment of our system,” Wilder said.  “Had you not committed that original criminal offense, you could own that gun and protect your family. If you haven’t had your rights restored, that’s life.”

Federal law prohibits anyone convicted of a felony from ever possessing any firearm or ammunition. It specifically applies to anyone convicted of a crime punishable by imprisonment. 

Even after they’re released from jail, the felon is banned from owning a firearm either inside or outside of their home, and the federal punishment can run as high as 10 years in prison.

The Polk County Sheriff’s Office is trying to crack down on felons who own or use guns, and is working with Heartland Crimestoppers, Inc., on a new program that rewards anonymous callers who alert law enforcement to anyone with an illegally possessed firearm. Citizens are encouraged to turn in felons with guns, which Wilder said is a reoccurring problem for the sheriff’s office.

“We run across it all the time,” he said. “The one that provided the impetus for this was a guy who shot and seriously injured two of our deputies. He was a convicted felon, and he shouldn’t have been in possession of this weapon.”

Anyone with a tip to provide can call Heartland Crimestoppers at 800-226-TIPS (8477) and report a person known to be illegally possessing a gun. 

If an arrest is made and a gun gets recovered from the information that was provided, the tipster will be eligible for a $500 reward. 

All calls remain confidential and no one at the sheriff’s office will ask a caller for their name or phone number.  Callers are not required to testify in court on these cases.

“We know that guns don’t commit violent crimes, people commit violent crimes,” Judd said. “And we know that there are plenty of folks out there who know who the bad guys are in their area. They know if they have guns or not.

“Give us an anonymous call, tell us who and where they are,” Judd added. “Give us as much information as you can, and we will investigate.  If we find someone illegally possessing a gun, we will arrest them and give the person who gave us the information $500 cash.  It’s that simple.  We want convicted felons who illegally possess guns off the streets.”

Wilder said this program was modeled after gun buyback programs that have been used by other county sheriff’s offices. In those instances, people who turned in their guns to the sheriff’s office – no questions asked – got vouchers for food, gasoline or other goods in exchange.

In this case, Wilder said, they’re offering a cash reward for tips.

“This is sort of a play off that type of program,” he said. “We don’t believe that guns in and of themselves are the bad thing. Guns can be used to defend lawful people and protect your property and yourself.”

The goal here is to crack down on felons alone, he added.

“If you know of a felon in possession of a gun, or a gun that has had its serial numbers filed off, those are the ones we want to know about,” Wilder said.

It doesn’t matter if the convicted felon isn’t using the gun to commit crimes, Wilder added.

“It doesn’t matter if they’re going to use that gun to rob a bank or not,” he said. “The mere possession of it as a felon is what’s illegal, even if they’re not using that gun to commit crimes. It’s a fairly steep penalty, and I know the court system takes it very seriously.  It’s a big deal.”

Since the program was first announced on Oct. 28, it’s led to one arrest, Wilder said.

“We’ve had a number of tips, and we’ve already paid one out,” he said. “One of the tips  led to us making an arrest for things other than simply owning an illegal gun.”

Contact us at FreelineOrlando@Gmail.com.

From Polk County to Colorado, an arrest for obscenity

BARTOW – It’s not common for sheriff’s deputies in Polk County, Florida to arrest someone in Pueblo, Colorado. But that’s exactly what the Polk County Sheriff’s Office did when Phillip R. Greaves, 47, was booked into the Polk County Jail around 11 a.m.  today.

He was charged with Distribution of Obscene Material Depicting Minors Engaged in Conduct Harmful to Minors, a third degree felony under Florida Statute 847.011(1)(C).

His offense was selling a copy of his book, “The Pedophile’s Guide to Love and Pleasure; A Child-lover’s Code of Conduct” to an undercover Polk County deputy.

Why target someone living halfway across the country?

Does the U.S. Constitution protect offensive speech and written materials?

Undercover detectives from the Polk County Sheriff’s Office had contacted Greaves and asked to buy his book, following a flurry of national media reports about it.  Online retail giant Amazon.com had dropped the self-published e-book from its Kindle store in November, after public outrage that it got listed there to begin with. It had gone on sale Oct. 28 and cost $4.79 to download.

According to a news release by the sheriff’s office, “Greaves mailed what he referred to as his own personal copy of his book, signed, after being paid $50, to an address in Lakeland, Fla., within the jurisdiction of the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.  Detectives and attorneys reviewed the book, presented the material to Polk County Judge J. Michael McCarthy, who found probable cause that Greaves distributed obscene material depicting minors engaged in activities harmful to minors.”

McCarthy issued a Polk County warrant for Greaves’ arrest, with a bond of $15,000 pending his first appearance in the Florida 10th Judicial Circuit jurisdiction.  Detectives flew to Pueblo and worked with the Pueblo Police Department to bring Greaves into custody.

Scott H. Wilder, director of communications for the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, said the book is “all written material” and does not contain sexually explicit photographs of minors. So how can the book not be protected under constitutionally protected free speech rights?

“You might be conflating with two different legal theories,” Wilder said. “One theory is child pornography, and there is a clear ruling for the state by the (U.S.) Supreme Court that child pornography has to be images. We are not charging him under child pornography statutes. This is obscenity, and it is a third degree felony, not a first degree felony as child pornography would be.”

The sheriff’s office cited two “graphic stories” in the book that depict an adult engaged in sexual acts with children, and which describe “adult genital contact and oral penetration with a 9-year-old boy and with a 13-year-old boy.”

The book also “defends, advocates, and trains adults regarding illegal sex acts between adults and children,” the sheriff’s office wrote in its official press statement following the arrest.

The sheriff’s office also quoted passages in the book, such as “Pedophiles, we must remember, care for and befriend their young lovers.  They are concerned for the wellbeing and pleasure of their little friends, always putting the juvenile’s pleasure and happiness first.”  According to the sheriff’s office, the context here is that “Greaves attempts to differentiate between pedophiles who ‘care for’ children and pedophiles who ‘rape’ children.”

Material like this, Wilder said, violates Florida’s obscenity law because it encourages dangerous sexual behavior against children.

“This is clearly written in Florida statutes that we can make an arrest on this,” he said. “The best kind of argument is local standards — what may be considered obscene in Polk County may not be obscene in New York City. Certainly in our opinion it’s not a free speech right. There are not unlimited free speech rights. You can’t yell fire in a crowded theater.”

Wilder said the book could be viewed as encouraging obscene, harmful contact with children.

“Woven throughout these stories are hints for predators on how they should teat the child, and those sorts of things,” Wilder said. “It’s a clear kind of guidebook for pedophiles and it kind of gives them grooming, on how to groom a child and stay on a first name basis. The book, taken as a whole, specifically is covered by Florida statutes. It specifically addresses that this is obscene material that depicts a minor engaged in any act or conduct that is harmful to minors. Remember, something can be obscene even when we’re not talking about the definition of pornography.”

Florida Statute 847.011: Prohibition of certain acts in connection with obscene, lewd, etc., materials; penalty, states that any person who sells or distributes materials “that depict a minor engaged in any act or conduct that is harmful to minors commits a felony of the third degree … A person’s ignorance of a minor’s age, a minor’s misrepresentation of his or her age, a bona fide belief of a minor’s age, or a minor’s consent may not be raised as a defense in a prosecution for one or more violations ….”

While the Polk County Sheriff’s Office was targeting Greaves, the Lake County Sheriff’s Office’s Cyber Crimes detectives completed a three day long undercover operation on Dec. 15 that resulted in three very different kinds of arrests.

During the operation, the three suspects contacted undercover detectives both online and by telephone. According to Lake County deputies, the men thought they were communicating with the parent/guardian of a teenage child between 13 and 14 years old, and made arrangements to meet with the parents so they could perform a sex act on the child.

As the men – later identified as James Poland, 61, Travis Morton, 24, and Steven Austin, 33 – got to the pre-arranged meeting locations, they were taken into custody without incident. 

Contact us at FreelineOrlando@Gmail.com.

 

With holiday fare underway, Celebration attracts unwanted national publicity for two violent deaths.

CELEBRATION – Just as this community was gearing up to celebrate the holidays with snow, tree lightings and carriage rides, media coverage of Celebration’s 12th Annual Now Snowing event got shunted aside by ongoing reports about two violent deaths in a community known, until this month, for never having experienced a murder before.

On Nov. 27, Celebration kicked off the community’s annual holiday events with a special tree lighting ceremony that featured live music, an appearance by Santa Claus, and manufactured snow falling on Market Street.

The town of Celebration hopes to attract people to its Now Snowing Nightly monthlong holiday event, but that got overshadowed by two violent deaths.

Just a few days later, though, the community was back in the spotlight, this time nationally, and not for the holiday fare.

Earlier this week, Osceola County Sheriff’s detectives released the name of the Celebration murder victim, 58-year-old Matteo P. Giovanditto.  Two days earlier, Osceola deputies had responded to a call from a neighbor who told them she went to check on Giovanditto and found him dead in his Water Street condo.

Not much information has been released about the case. The investigation is on-going, with detectives calling the death “suspicious.” This is believed to be the first homicide in the community.

It wasn’t the only death to make the news in Celebration this week.

On Dec. 3 at 2:20 a.m., deputies finally got into a Yew Court home after hours of negotiations. A Celebration man had barricaded himself inside the house, but when deputies got in there, they found him dead of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. He was later identified as Craig Foushee, 52. The previous day, deputies had spent more than 14 hours negotiating with Foushee, even sending tear gas into the house in an effort to get inside.

It started after Foushee, who was alone inside the house, indicated he might harm himself, the sheriff’s office said. As a precaution, several local streets were closed and residents in the vicinity of the house got evacuated.  Schools were put on lockdown, and deputies worked with school officials to ensure students could leave at the regular time.

Twis Lizasuain, public information officer for the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office, noted that this was done because Foushee shot at deputies several times earlier in the evening when SWAT team members tried a forced entry through his front door, and later during ongoing negotiations. Although no deputies were injured, Lizasuain noted that deputies didn’t return fire because they couldn’t focus on a target.

After more than two hours without any communication, deputies used a robot to locate Foushee, just before a SWAT team entered the house.

The sheriff’s office noted that this case isn’t related to the Celebration homicide investigation, and Foushee’s death was turned over to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for further investigation.

The two cases attracted plenty of local media coverage from Orlando area television stations, but also ended up making the national news as well. CNN Headline News covered the two incidents on Friday, with a special mention of Celebration being a town originally sponsored by Walt Disney World.

The incidents happened just as the Osceola County community was hoping for solid attendance for Town Center’s annual holiday events.

Now Snowing, as the ongoing holiday event is called, features the manufactured snow along with an ice rink, a remodeled Celebration Express Train and a “Winter Wonderland Spectacular” featuring strolling Charles Dickens carolers, photos with Santa, and horse drawn carriage rides. The snow falls nightly in Town Center at 6, 7, 8 and 9 p.m.

The month long holiday event includes a special Radio Disney Holiday concert on Saturday, Dec. 11 featuring All-Star Weekend and the winner of this year’s nationwide NBT contest on Radio Disney. The event ends with a New Year’s Eve Celebration including live entertainment starting at 6 p.m. and fireworks at midnight on Dec. 31. There will also be community performances in Celebration on Jan. 1-2.

To learn more about Celebration’s holiday activities, log on to www.celebrationtowncenter.com or call 407-566-4007.

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