Deputy indicted in civil rights case

Published November 16, 2006

In a rare move, a federal grand jury has charged a Pinellas County sheriff's deputy with illegally kicking and using a Taser on a shooting suspect.

Deputy Richard G. Farnham is accused of using excessive force on a man he and another deputy encountered while on a special detail in the Florida Panhandle after Hurricane Ivan.

Farnham was charged under a federal civil rights law that has been used only a handful of times against law officers in Florida in the past few years.

"This is a highly unusual case," said Tampa attorney John Fitzgibbons, a former federal prosecutor not involved in the case.

Neither the Sheriff's Office nor federal prosecutors provided many details of the incident, which occurred Sept. 20, 2004, in Navarre Beach.

Farnham, 34, volunteered for a unit of Pinellas deputies sent to help bolster law enforcement in Ivan's aftermath. Farnham was with a deputy from Santa Rosa County when two men fired gunshots at them, according to the Sheriff's Office.

Farnham injured one of the men, identified only as D.T. in the indictment, by unlawfully kicking him and using his department-issued Taser in an unreasonable manner, according to the two-paragraph indictment released Tuesday.

Farnham is expected to turn himself in next week and be released on bail.

Deputy Farnham "is absolutely innocent and fully expects to be acquitted of all charges," said his attorney, Ron Cacciatore."

Those can be difficult cases to prosecute, said Tampa attorney Steve Crawford, a former federal prosecutor. The victim often has done something to provoke the violence, and politically it can be unpopular, he said.

The charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Farnham would likely face a much lesser sentence if convicted.

As is standard procedure, Farnham is on paid administrative leave pending the outcome.

Times news researchers Caryn Baird and Angie Drobnic Holan contributed to this report.