Florida Sheriff Says He’ll Deputize Lawful Gun Owners if Protests Turn Violent

July 2, 2020 Updated: July 2, 2020

A Florida sheriff on July 1 vowed to deputize legal gun owners if protesters threaten to bring violence to his county as Black Lives Matter and related protests continue to sweep the nation following the death of George Floyd last month in Minneapolis.

Clay County Sheriff Darryl Daniels, the county’s first black sheriff and a Republican, said that while he would protect any peaceful protests, action will be taken if his deputies can’t handle them alone.

In a three-minute video posted on social media, Daniels can be seen speaking on behalf of his team of 18 deputies to condemn violence, warning that if anyone starts “tearing up Clay County, that is not going to be acceptable.”

Clay County Sheriff Darryl Daniels
Clay County Sheriff Darryl Daniels addresses a press conference on March 12, 2019. (Clay County Sheriffs Office)

“Yes, we’ll protect your constitutional rights as long as you remain under the umbrella of peaceful protest or peaceful march. But the second that you step out from under the protection of the Constitution, we will be waiting on you and we will give you everything you want—all the publicity, all the pain, all the glamour, and glory,” he said.

“If we can’t handle you, I’ll exercise the power and authority as the sheriff and I’ll make special deputies of every lawful gun owner in the county and I’ll deputize them to this one purpose: to stand in the gap between lawlessness and civility,” Daniels said, on behalf of his officers.

Daniels didn’t give any indication in his video that any demonstrations were planned in the county, a suburb of Jacksonville.

Daniels said in his video that his message is a commitment to keeping the county safe.

“That’s what we were sworn to do and that’s what we’re gonna do,” he said. “You’ve been warned.”

Atlantic Beach Police Chief Michelle Cook, one of Daniels’s political opponents, told News4Jax that the sheriff’s video message is nothing more than a “taxpayer-funded campaign stunt.”

Officers Trapped

His video message came a week after a Florida police chief said a situation he’s described as an ambush is one of a number of incidents that show that people ostensibly protesting in recent weeks aren’t always peaceful.

Nine officers responded to a reported shooting in Tampa in the early hours of June 20, but found no evidence that a shooting occurred, including no victim. Instead, hundreds of people in the area penned the officers in and hurled bottles and other objects, injuring two of the officers.

Officials describing the protests as entirely peaceful “are not depicting the whole story,” Tampa Police Chief Brian Duggan said last week.

“They’re leaving the portions out that fit their narrative. We’ve had police cars with smashed windows … looting, defacing property, and it’s just not getting out there,” he said during an appearance on “Fox & Friends.”

Protests against police brutality and racial injustice have taken place across the United States since Floyd died in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25. The four police officers involved in the arrest have been fired from the force. They were later charged with murder or aiding and abetting murder.

In some cases, violence, including destruction of businesses and assault on individuals, has accompanied the protests or occurred nearby.

Zachary Stieber and The Associated Press contributed to this report.