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Man arrested over gun deal calls it misunderstanding

But authorities aren't buying the explanation of the St. Petersburg artist, who is accused of impersonating an officer.

By AMY HERDY

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 24, 2001


TAMPA -- A St. Petersburg man arrested last week on charges of impersonating an officer says the whole thing was a misunderstanding blown out of proportion by police.

"It was a nightmare," said Russel Franklin Sirmons, 49. He said a Tampa police officer screamed profanities at him during the arrest last Saturday night at the Florida Marine Patrol office on Gandy Boulevard.

Sirmons, of 2047 53rd Ave. N, is an artist who designed the Tampa Bay Estuary license plate for the state. An avid outdoorsman, Sirmons said he was simply trading guns with someone in the parking lot when a police officer pulled up and began screaming at him.

After checking for prior arrests, Sirmons said, the officer learned of a felony marijuana arrest from 1977. Sirmons was then arrested on charges of being a felon in possession of a firearm and carrying a concealed weapon.

As for impersonating an officer, Sirmons said, he merely told police he was friends with someone at the Marine Patrol, not that he worked there.

Not so, police said.

"The man he was trading guns with, as well as the officer on the scene, both said Sirmons identified himself as a captain with the Marine Patrol," said Officer Paul Lusczynski. Lusczynski said Sirmons never said anything about anyone being abusive to him. "I've also spoken with him four or five times since then, and he never said anything to me about being cursed at," he said.

After Sirmons gave police permission to search, officials said they found 23 guns at his home, including assault rifles, three hand grenades, 2,500 rounds of ammunition and military-style bulletproof jackets and helmets.

Sirmons said several of the guns belonged to friends and that he was in the process of cleaning or repairing them.

- Amy Herdy can be reached at (813) 226-3386 or herdy@sptimes.com.

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