By Karl Etters
Tallahassee Police are seeking a court order to have multiple guns taken away from a man with a history of mental illness and making threats to hurt others.
The filing Friday morning is the first in Leon County under a new law enacted following the Valentine’s Day massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School intended to give law enforcement more power to take firearms from people with mental health issues.
TPD’s attorney Teresa Flury filed the petition against 21-year-old Christopher Mark Newhouse Jr. A judge has not yet ruled on the petition.
Newhouse, as documented in the filing, has made threats to kill police officers, himself and others as far back as April 2017. Newhouse owns an AR-15, and two other semi-automatic rifles, according to the petition.
In September, TPD responded to Newhouse’s Rosemary Terrace house where he admitted to firing an AR-15 into his backyard while he was intoxicated. He voluntarily surrendered the rifle for the evening.
The law, enacted last month, provides for such risk protection petitions by law enforcement agencies and allows the court to prohibit a violent or mentally ill individual from purchasing or possessing firearms or any other weapons. It also can require weapons be immediately surrendered.
Additionally, the law allows police to seize firearms from individuals who are involuntarily admitted to mental health facilities.
The TPD filing lays out four grounds on which police believe Newhouse’s firearms should be taken from him: he has made recent threats to harm himself or others; has committed or made threats of violence within the past 12 months; has recurring mental health issues and has recklessly brandished a firearm.
In July, Newhouse threatened to kill police officers, according to the filing, because he was upset over a traffic citation. They received second-hand reports that Newhouse said: “pigs got to die.”
In February, the Leon County Sheriff’s Office went to a home owned by a family member of Newhouse after he’d made threats to kill law enforcement. He “admitted to deputies that he had a desire to kill law enforcement officers and did not care if he lived or died,” Flury wrote in the filing.
Newhouse was Baker Acted. A loaded semi-automatic weapon was found in his vehicle.
In April 2017, a bank teller called police when Newhouse went into the First Florida Bank on Capital Circle Northeast to make a large deposit. The teller reported that he’d referenced buying a gun and robbing a bank during the transaction.
After being involuntarily committed in February, a psychologist found that Newhouse suffers from psychosis and should not possess firearms or other weapons.
A month later he was Baker Acted again for being suicidal.
March 22, 2017, the Apalachee Center filed a petition for involuntary placement. The petition said the “was a substantial likelihood that in the near future, (Newhouse) would inflict serious bodily harm on himself or another person.” The petition was denied for unknown reasons, according to the filing.
The new law was first used just nine days after it was signed by Gov. Rick Scott to temporarily remove four firearms and more than 250 rounds of ammunition from a Broward County man.
Florida’s U.S. Senators are following the lead of state lawmakers. Republican Sen. Marco Rubio and Democrat Sen. Bill Nelson have introduced “red flag” legislation at the federal level.
Rubio said in a statement:
“I think, among the things that we could do after Parkland, one of the most effective is a gun violence restraining order. Basically the police or a family member who thinks someone is dangerous can go to court. They can get a court order, and they can take that person’s guns away and keep them from buying new ones. Florida has already passed it. Five other states are already passing it. And now we’re putting out there a law to try to get all the other states in the country to do the same thing, so you can find these people and you can take away their guns before they kill anybody.”