PINAC reporter Jeff Gray released a scathing open letter through his popular Youtube channel last week calling for Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Rick Swearingen to stop spreading false “intelligence” about him to law enforcement agencies throughout the state.
He says FDLE is placing his life in danger.
Gray also sent the video along with a transcription of his letter to various officials at the FDLE via email to ensure it gets to Swearingen, who took office in January after his predecessor was unexpectedly ousted by Governor Rick Scott.
He would have sent it to Swearingen himself, but had not yet obtained the commissioner’s email address.
The video, posted below, has already generated more than 150 comments and almost 6,500 views since it was posted Thursday night.
Although Gray has known that false information about him was being disseminated by law enforcement for more than a year, it was only recently, through public records requests, that he discovered the false information is now being shared with non-law enforcement government agencies in Florida, which drove him to create the video.
Since 2011, Gray routinely has recorded public officials conducting their duties in public spaces, posting the footage to YouTube where he has accumulated almost 30,000 subscribers. He often finds himself being confronted by law enforcement, politely exercising his rights while continuing to record.
Gray refers to these videos as “First Amendment audits,” interactions that determine whether the law enforcement officials he encounters are honoring their oaths to support and defend the Constitution. His YouTube channel is appropriately titled, HONORYOUROATH.
Although Gray operates on solid legal ground with First Amendment protections, he has found himself the target of a government-initiated investigation under the guise of “counter terrorism.” Public records reveal that Gray has been under investigation since 2012 by the Florida Fusion Center, a concoction of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies. The story was first reported by PINAC in early 2014.
These reports accuse Gray of “luring” law enforcement officers into confrontations with his video camera, which is easily refuted by simply watching a few of Gray’s videos. Nonetheless, the investigation resulted in the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) paying Gray’s children a visit at school, along with a home visit which was also recorded and posted to YouTube. DCF closed their investigation after Gray’s family passed a safety assessment with flying colors.
Even more disturbing are the “intelligence” reports that the Northeast Florida Fusion Center created and distributed in 2012, which reveal a pattern of either complete and utter ignorance on the part of the agency’s analysts or an orchestrated attempt to falsely categorize Gray as a threat to law enforcement.
Both which put Gray’s life in danger.
For example, the fusion center released an “informational awareness” memo in April 2012 titled, “Sovereign Citizens and the Potential Threat to Law Enforcement Officers,” listing Gray, along with his home address and a fabricated story claiming that he refused to show a drivers license after being pulled over, showing “sovereign citizen paperwork” instead. The memo insinuated that he is dangerous by claiming he was arrested after a “brief struggle.” But no records exist of the incident cited in this memo because it never happened.
Although the sovereign-citizen movement does not always rise to violence, its members’ illegal activities and past violent—including fatal—incidents against law enforcement make it a group that should be approached with knowledge and caution. It is important that law enforcement be aware of sovereign citizens’ tactics so agencies can warn the public of potential scams, spot illegal activity and understand its potential severity, and be prepared for and protect against violent behavior or backlash through intimidation and harassment.
In today’s climate, it’s no stretch of the imagination to think that law enforcement will use this false information along with some confirmation bias when interacting with Gray that will certainly put the officers in a different mindset. A mindset that could lead to any number of disastrous outcomes.
The agency also compiled what appears to be a profile summary on Gray, complete with drivers license information, activist group associations, and summaries of his law enforcement interactions, seemingly collected from Gray’s own YouTube videos. However, one incident listed on the report falsely places Gray in the vehicle of one Eric Walter Novak, who was arrested for felony drug possession:
Gray was a passenger in a vehicle which was being driven by Eric Walter Novak (DOB 12/31/66) when Novak
illegally passed another vehicle and was subsequently pulled over for the traffic infraction. A strong odor of
marijuana was emitting from the vehicle. Permission was granted to search the vehicle where four handguns, Xanex, Roxycotin, Oxycodone, 71.9 grams of marijuana, four glass pipes, two straws, two grinders, and two digital
scales. Novak was arrested for possession. Gray appears to have been released although no mention of him was
made in the narcotics report.
However, Gray was not a passenger of the Eric Novak’s vehicle, he was filming the interaction from a safe distance and has the video evidence to back it up. Even the arresting officer makes note in his arrest report that Eric Novak was the only passenger of the vehicle…
…I made contact with the only occupant of the vehicle, a male, identified by Florida license as Eric Walter Novak. i explained the reason for the stop, and E. Novak stated he was frustrated the vehicle would not move out of the way. As I spoke with Novak, I noticed an odor of marijuana emitting from the driver’s window area. Dep. Stokes 3221 arrived on scene…
The correct information is all available to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, yet they somehow grossly misrepresented the facts which paints Jeff Gray as a drug-running sovereign citizen who beats up cops. In reality, Gray is soft spoken family man, who happens to participate in political speech as Gray outlines in his video…
Let me make something very clear; I am not a drug running, weapons smuggling, violent sovereign citizen as the false intelligence distributed by the Florida Department Of Law Enforcement and Fusion Center makes me out to be.
What I am, is a devoted husband to my wife and devoted father to my three children. I am also a citizen journalist as well as a peaceful civil rights activist who focuses on government transparency through the right to record public officials and through public records access.
In fact, one cop even approached Gray that day and began recording his own video as you can see in the photo below.
It’s clear that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and their associated fusion center are not qualified to conduct any level of intelligence gathering as they don’t even seem capable of conducting a simple copy-and-paste operation. They just resort to making up facts about activists who they may not like or agree with and spread the misinformation like a real life version of the Chinese whispers, only with monumental consequences to their victims.
If a citizen not working for a law enforcement agency knowingly publishes false information in an attempt to damage a person’s reputation, the victim has recourse through defamation suits and can receive damages accordingly. However, not surprisingly, law enforcement has exempted themselves from the law [McNayr v. Kelly], which leaves citizens with very little recourse to clear ones name against a malicious government agency.
It seems to be well settled in this State that words spoken or written by public servants in judicial and legislative activities are protected by absolute privilege from liability for defamation. However false or malicious or badly motivated the accusation may be, no action will lie therefor in this State
Gray didn’t want this article to be all about him. He fears that he may not be the only individual to fall victim to this false intelligence gathering scheme perpetrated by the very organization who claims “quality – in everything we do” as a core value. Gray is in a better position than most to expose the false information to the public as most people don’t have a built audience of almost 30,000 on YouTube or a nationally recognized news site to help expose the lies. He fears that others may unknowingly be walking around with a proverbial target on their head for doing absolutely nothing wrong. Gray is now calling upon the leadership of the FDLE to take action:
Commissioner Swearingen, I am calling on you to ensure that the FDLE immediately ceases distribution of this false intel about me. I am also asking that you ensure every agency, entity and person the FDLE has sent this false intel to, is contacted in order that my name be cleared. Furthermore, I am asking that an investigation be conducted in order to find out how this happened, to find out if other innocent citizens are being slandered and their lives endangered, as well as to make sure that this doesn’t happen again.
By congress’ own admission, the 77 fusion centers have become “pools of ineptitude, waste and civil liberties intrusions”, according to a scathing 141-page report by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs permanent subcommittee on investigations. It’s past time to shut down them all down, but in the meantime, commissioner Swearingen has some explaining to do.