Sheriff Frank Stoutamire.jpg

On July 19, 1937, a Tallahassee mob lynched two young black men accused of stabbing a police officer.  Investigators accused Sheriff Stoutamire and his deputies of complying with the mob and neglecting to provide proper protection for the accused, knowing the possibility of extralegal violence.  When Governor Cone considered suspending the sheriff, prominent locals (a circuit judge and the mayor) requested the governor spare Stoutamire.  Cone agreed and the case quickly closed.  The sheriff’s office never made an arrest for the death of the two youths.

Portrait of Orange County Sheriff S. David Starr.jpg

Racial violence, both organized and unorganized, was not uncommon in Florida.  Sheriffs faced the terror and manipulation of local Ku Klux Klan groups that resurfaced in the early twentieth century.  As officials, they were duty-bound to oppose the Klan while secretly many agreed with the organization’s goals if not its methods.  Some, like Sheriff S. David Starr of Orange County, were Klan members.  While the federal government authorized the arrest of Klansmen in the 1870s, a sheriff’s local influence often protected him or her from such legislation.

View of Sheriff McCall and Shooting Victims.jpg

In the summer of 1949, Sheriff Willis McCall of Lake County was transporting two African American young men to Raiford Prison when he stopped his car and shot them both.  The young men were two of four black youths accused of raping a white girl in Groveland, Florida.  One of the shooting victims survived to testify against the sheriff.  McCall claimed they tried to escape his custody, and he avoided prosecution due to lack of evidence.  He continued to serve as Lake County Sheriff for twenty-three years after the shootings.  Governor Reubin Askew finally suspended him in 1972 for beating to death a mentally handicapped inmate.  Once acquitted of all crimes, McCall returned to the political scene in time for the next election.  He lost, but only by a few votes.