A Jacksonville Sheriff’s detective who works off-duty for a local pastor used his law enforcement authority to subpoena personal information on an anonymous blogger who was critical of the pastor who employed him.
Detective Robert Hinson, who also serves as Rev. Mac Brunson’s bodyguard, closed the investigations against the blogger a few weeks after receiving the information from Google and Comcast.
But not before handing over the blogger’s personal information to the pastor – essentially outing him against his will – in an inquisition-style conflict of interest that threatens the separation of church and state guaranteed by our Constitution.
The pastor, in turn, banned the blogger and his family from First Baptist Church, the largest church in Jacksonville, by threatening to arrest them for trespassing if they dared step on church property again.
Now blogger Tom Rich, who runs the blog FBC Jax Watchdog, is preparing to strike back legally.
“We’re talking First Amendment issues, federal privacy issues, slander issues,” the 45-year-old engineer and teacher said in a phone interview with Photography is Not a Crime Sunday night.
“We’re going to use every legal means possible to shine the brightest light to see what they did and why they did it.”
Hinson also went through the State Attorney’s Office to subpoena the information of two other bloggers who were critical of two other pastors, including a blogger who doesn’t even live in Florida and another who doesn’t even blog anonymously.
Tiffany Croft blogs about pastor Darrel Gilyard, a Jacksonville preacher who is awaiting trial for sending sexually explicit text messages to teenage girls. Croft says she was a victim of sexually explicit phone calls from Gilyard when she was a teenager.
The subpeonas against these three bloggers is the latest example of law enforcement using its authority to crack down on bloggers whose only crime is to write unfavorable things about the powers that be, whether it is the church or an actual police department.
Not only were none of the bloggers in this case ever charged criminally, they were not even aware that Hinson had been investigating them. According to the Florida Times-Union, the reason the sheriff’s office investigated Rich was because of the “possible criminal overtones” of his blog.
However, Rich said he all he did was criticize the pastor’s “abusive preaching” style.
“I analyzed and commented on his own words and actions,” he said.
Rich also questioned certain “gifts” the pastor received after arriving in Jacksonville in 2006, including a $307,000 half-acre of property in an exclusive private golf club community.
Although no criminal evidence arose during the six-week investigation against Rich, Jacksonville Undersheriff Frank Mackesy said Hinson acted properly in handing over Rich’s personal information to the church so it could “take whatever internal action it felt necessary for its own safety.”
Sheriff John Rutherford further supported Hinson’s actions in an email to CBS47.com.
The only reason Rich found out Hinson had subpoenaed his information was because he received information from an inside source who believed Rich’s rights had been violated. He also learned that church leaders were slandering him by accusing him of stalking the Pastor’s wife, stealing their mail and photographing the pastor’s wife in public (as if the latter is even a crime).
Brunson also told the Florida Times-Union that Rich was a “sociopath” with an “obsessive compulsive problem” who is “not very stable at all.”
“The man has never met me,” said Rich, who was a member of the First Baptist Church for two decades before he was barred. “We have never even shaken hands.”
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