2 seek, 1 gets a full pardon

A Pinellas Park man's request is granted. A Live Oak man's isn't.

Published June 15, 2007

TALLAHASSEE - It took him five years, but Stephen Brisbois won back his civil rights Thursday from the state of Florida.

What the former St. Petersburg resident didn't get was the full pardon he had sought, including the right to own a gun. He left for home not knowing why.

Brisbois, 46, is a married father of two and an air-conditioning contractor who moved to Live Oak four years ago. He served about 18 months in the Pinellas County jail for marijuana and cocaine possession nearly two decades ago.

"I was a drug addict," he told Gov. Charlie Crist and the Cabinet, meeting as the Board of Clemency. "I hurt everybody that I loved."

Today, Brisbois told the board, he lives in a home he built, is active in the Chamber of Commerce and his church, and wants to get a passport to go to Cuba with his church ministry.

"God opened the door," he said.

Brisbois was one of 74 people seeking to secure their rights or full pardons Thursday in the second clemency meeting since Crist became governor and two new members joined the board.

Two months ago, at Crist's urging, the panel approved new rules allowing many nonviolent released felons to win back their rights without a formal hearing. So far, 15,501 people have regained their rights that way, but a backlog of about 38,000 cases remains.

Brisbois' case required a lengthy field investigation because he was seeking an unconditional pardon, not merely the restoration of his right to vote, serve on a jury and hold professional licenses.

The board decided, without explanation, to restore his civil rights but not to grant an unconditional pardon.

Democratic Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink joined the Republican governor in saying it was unfair that people seeking help were not told why the Parole Commission recommended that their requests be rejected.

"It certainly would seem fair," Crist said.

"Amen!" shouted several people in the audience.

Parole Commission spokeswoman Jane Tillman said the agency was adhering to a policy set by the previous administration and will change the policy.

Another case involved Michael "Pete" Peros of Pinellas Park, owner of an electronics surveillance company, who said a series of felony charges against him in 1989 were the result of false statements by a Florida Department of Law Enforcement agent.

Peros pleaded no contest to burglarizing a car, but his attorney portrayed him as a victim of unscrupulous police tactics. His company, Privacy Electronics, has a contract to provide security to the entire power grid in the state of Israel, Peros said.

On Crist's motion, the board granted Peros' request for a full pardon, even though the Parole Commission had recommended that the request be denied.

Peros' attorney, James Johnstone, said the Parole Commission would not give him a reason for the unfavorable recommendation

Former Gov. Claude Kirk made a brief appearance to testify on behalf of Peros, whom he called a friend.

"Anybody else can do business with him - except the state of Florida," Kirk said.

Steve Bousquet can be reached at bousquet@sptimes.com or 850 224-7263.