Risk Protection Order in Pinellas County

Enacted on March 9, 2018, section 790.401, Florida Statutes was created as part of the “Risk Protection Order Act.” The new legislation explains the requirements for the petition and resulting orders. In addition to preventing mass shootings, the orders are intended to prevent suicides or other forms of violence.

Pinellas County leads the way by filing the second-highest number of RPO petitions out of all the counties in the state. How many were filed and what was the result?

The Summary Reporting System for Risk Protection Orders by county from March 2018 through February 2019, as reported by OSCA: Research, Statistics, and Evaluation Data as of April 1, 2019, shows:

  • Pinellas County had 228 Final RPO hearings (223 granted, 1 denied, 4 missing).
    • 99.56% of the written orders granted the Final RPO.
    • For at least one of the cases with a missing order, the Court refused to issue a RPO which brings the percentage down to 99.12%
  • Polk County had 233 Final RPO hearings (210 granted, 23 denied, 0 missing). 89% of the written orders granted the Final RPO.
  • Hillsborough County had 76 Final RPO hearings (67 granted, 1 denied, 8 missing). 98.5% of the orders granted the RPO.

Throughout Florida, there were 1,359 Final RPO hearings (with 9 counties reporting the statistics from March of 2019).

Attorney for the Risk Protection Order in Pinellas

The attorneys at Sammis Law Firm are experienced in representing respondents in RPO hearings in Pinella County. Contact us immediately after being served with the petition and before the final hearing. We can represent you at the final hearing.

If the RPO was already granted and there are no grounds for appeal or more than 30 days have passed, we can help you file a motion to vacate the RPO. If the petitioner files a motion to extend the RPO, we can represent you at the extension hearing.

To discuss a RPO case pending in Pinellas County at the courthouse in Clearwater FL, then contact us.

Call 813-250-0500 today.

What is the Risk Protection Unit in Pinellas County?

Many counties in Florida have created quite an assembly line for these RPO hearings. At least in Pinellas County, FL, local law enforcement agencies are completing the affidavits and sending them to the newly created Risk Protection Unit of the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office. Sgt. Jason Schmittendorf originally headed up the unit.

The Risk Protection Unit is responsible for serving these temporary orders to seize (for the surrender) firearms, ammunition, and the concealed weapon permit.

The Risk Protection Unit in the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office and the agency’s attorney do the following in an RPO case:

  • gathers evidence;
  • obtains RPO witness statement affidavits;
  • files the petitions;
  • serves the temporary RPO orders;
  • forces the “surrender” of the firearms and concealed weapon permits;
  • seeks a warrant to obtain firearms and ammunition not surrendered; and
  • presents testimony and evidence at the fourteen (14) day hearing.

The Assistant General Counsel of the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office is representing the petitioner at the 14-day hearings.

Hillsborough County has not yet created a “Risk Protection Unit” which explains why they have much fewer of these hearings (even though it has a higher population when compared to Pinellas County).

Influence of the MSDHS Public Safety Commission

Many believe that the reason that the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office has so many RPO cases is that Sheriff Bob Gualtieri was appointed as the Chair of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (MSDHS) Public Safety Commission.

Other commission appointees originally included Chief Asst. State Attorney Bruce Bartlett who served the State Attorney’s Office in the Sixth Judicial Circuit out of the office in Clearwater, FL, for more than 39 years.

Established in 2018, the MSD Public Safety Commission works within the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate system failures in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting and prior mass violence incidents in Florida.

Much of the commission’s attention has focused on the benefits of using Risk Protection Orders to seize firearms or otherwise force their surrender.

To execute the high number of RPOs in Pinellas County, Sheriff Gualtieri created a Risk Protection Unit of the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office. The 5-man team is devoted to working only on risk protection cases.

At the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission Meeting at the BB&T Center Chairman’s Club on August 14, 2019, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri stated:

But what does now in Florida give us the opportunity to prevent that person who has been Baker Acted or has significance mental health or behavioral issues not necessarily mental health, is what we call risk protection orders or some people call them red flag orders, and that enactment has been extremely successful, and I know it made a difference in this state in preventing harm and preventing tragedy, allowing law enforcement to seize firearms, seize the ammunition, and importantly prevent them from going out to the local gun store and being able to buy a gun.

This process has worked very well, and I believe the numbers show that the number one county in the state for these risk protection orders is Polk County followed right behind by Pinellas County.·

Broward has done a number of them, and that has been a very, very significant enactment as a result of Senate Bill 7026.

Risk Protection Orders in Pinellas County, FL

In Pinellas County, the RPO cases are being filed with an “IN” case number in Circuit Court. The case is styled as Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office vs. _______.

After the duty judge in the criminal circuit division is presented with the petition, the judge will grant the Temporary Risk Protection Order (TRPO) and schedule the 14-day hearing.

Then the same judge who signs the TRPO will often conduct the 14-day hearing. The problem with this procedure is that the law enforcement officer or agency (petitioner) and their attorney have total control over which judge hears the case.

The petitioner decides which day to file the petition and the duty judge’s schedule is typically published months in advance. I’ve raised this issue in writing at RPO hearings in motions to dismiss for due process violations.

That problem with “judge shopping” is avoided for the RPO hearings in Hillsborough County, FL, because all of the petitions filed under the Risk Protection Order Act are transferred to a specific division known as Division “M,” the Probate, Guardianship, Mental Health and Trust Division.

What Happens at the Risk Protection Order Hearing?

The “red flag” law has been criticized for unnecessarily hampering the due process rights of individuals who are restrained by them. In these risk protection order cases, the court is asked to determine whether:

  • by clear and convincing evidence;
  • the petitioner proved that the respondent poses a “significant danger”;
  • of causing personal injury to himself or herself or others;
  • by having in his or her custody or control, or by purchasing, possessing, or receiving, a firearm or any ammunition.

In some judicial circuits in Florida have adopted administrative rules for determining where Risk Protection Order (hereinafter “RPO”) cases will be heard.

In Pinellas County, the judge assigned as duty judge on the day the petition is filed is responsible for considering the petition and scheduling the 14-day hearing. That same judge is then responsible for conducting the hearing.

These procedures might violate due process by allowing the petition to “shop” for the best judge for each case.

Although “judge shopping” is not supposed to occur, it can occur in an RPO case in the Sixth Judicial Circuit for Pinellas County because the “duty judge schedule” is published months in advance.

The attorney with the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office or the law enforcement officer filing the petition knows before the petition is filed which judge will be assigned to decide the case. By selecting the date to file the petition, law enforcement officers can effectively select the judge who will consider the petition and rule on the case at the return hearing.

If you were served with a temporary risk protection order (RPO), then contact an experienced criminal defense attorney at Sammis Law Firm. Call (813) 250-0500.

Service of the Order and Seizure (Forced Surrender) of the Firearms

When the temporary risk protection order (RPO) is served in Pinellas County, you might also be served with a letter from the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, Property Evidence Division.

The letter identifies the firearms or ammunition owned by you that is being held pursuant to the terms of a temporary or final Risk Protection Order.

In Pinellas County, those firearms and ammunition will be stored at the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office Property and Evidence Division located at 4707 145th Avenue North, Clearwater, FL, 33762. All firearms and ammunition will only be returned with an appointment and following a background check.

In order to retrieve your firearms and ammunition after the expiration of the Risk Protection Order, please contact the Property and Evidence Division which is opened on Monday through Friday from 9 am to 5 pm.

Pursuant to Florida Statute Section 790.401, the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office is required to notify any family or household members prior to the return of any surrendered firearms or ammunition.

The firearms will not be returned to you unless you retrieve the items within one year of the dismissal or expiration of the order. Firearms not retrieved within such time shall be disposed of, without further notice, pursuant to Florida Statutes.

The letter states that the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office will not be responsible for continued storage of any firearm or ammunition held for safekeeping longer than twenty-four (24) months after the date of this notice unless you provide a certified copy of a court order directing some other disposition of the firearms or ammunition or continued storage by the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office.

Read more about Risk Protection Orders in Hillsborough County and Risk Protection Orders in Manatee County, FL.

Additional Resources

Restraining Order Pinellas County, FL – Visit the clerk of court in the Sixth Judicial Circuit for Pinellas County, FL, to look up information on protective or restraining orders in Pinellas County’s Sixth Judicial Circuit. Find helpful information including family law and restraining order sample forms. The website provides information on how to file for an injunction, including an injunction for protection from domestic violence, dating violence, repeat violence, stalking or cyberstalking, and exploitation of the elderly or a vulnerable adult. Find out more about a Violation of Injunction, or action for contempt, modification, extension, or dismissal of an injunction. You can also watch a video on how to file for an injunction for protection. Petitions for an injunction can be filed at any of the following locations:

315 Court Street, Room 170
Clearwater, FL 33756

14250 49th Street North
Clearwater, FL 33762

545 First Avenue North, Room 101
St. Petersburg, FL 33701

Extreme Risk Protection Order – In other states, the RPO is known as an Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO). Many people call these statutes the “red flag” law. Several states have created a process for obtaining an extreme risk protection order, although the procedures vary from state to state. In the U.S. Senate, a bill was introduced for the Federal Extreme Risk Protection Order Act of 2018.

Lawyers for the RPO Hearing in Clearwater, FL

We are prepared to defend clients served with a Risk Protection Order involving any of the law enforcement agencies in Pinellas County including:

  • the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office;
  • the Clearwater Police Department;
  • the St. Petersburg Police Department;
  • the Pinellas Park Police Department;
  • the Largo Police Department;
  • the Gulfport Police Department;
  • the Belleair Police Department;
  • the Indian Shores Police Department;
  • the Kenneth City Police Department; or
  • the Tarpon Springs Police Department.

An attorney with the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office can represent the law enforcement officer or agency during the hearing. You also need an attorney with experience in these types of hearings.

The attorneys at the Sammis Law Firm represent clients served with a Risk Protection Order in Pasco County, which is in the same judicial circuit. Those RPO hearing are conducted at the New Port Richey or Dade City Courthouse.

Our main office is located in downtown Tampa and we have a second office in New Port Richey, right across from the courthouse.

Call 813-250-0500.

This article was last updated on Friday, October 25, 2019.