Baptist Church Accused of Using Florida Detective to Uncover and Identify Critical Blogger

brunson1Thomas A. Rich was an anonymous blogger on who complained to other parishioners about such things as First Baptist Church Pastor Mac Brunson’s huge $300,000 salary, his construction of a lavish office for himself, and his putting his wife on the payroll. The church turned to Detective Robert Hinson who not only works for the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office but is on the payroll of the church. Hinson allegedly opened a criminal investigation that identified Rich and then informed the church. Rich and his wife were promptly banned from the church.

Hinson secured a subpoena from the State Attorney’s Office to force Google Inc. to reveal Rich’s name. Since the blogger never made any threat, it was clear that there was no crime. It is unclear why the State’s Attorney’s office would approve such a subpoena. The prosecutors approved a highly invasive subpoena based on the undefined allegation of “possible criminal overtones.” Hinson reportedly also investigated other bloggers: and

The church insists that some mail was stolen and the blogs were a bit too intense and angry. However, there is no reason to assume that a critic is also a thief and no such charges were ever brought against any of the bloggers.

When no criminal charges were brought, Rich’s name was revealed to the church. Rich has now filed a formal complaint over the incident. Nevertheless, Undersheriff Frank Mackesy sees no conflict or problem in Hinson’s role. insisting that “The detective hasn’t done anything wrong.” Hmmm, a detective opens up an investigation into bloggers complaining about church corruption while in the employee of that church. The names of those bloggers are then released to the church and Mackesy sees no problem and can clear the detective without further investigation. Machesy (right)view was recently honored for his service, giving some of his background here.

Furthermore, Mackesy says that it was appropriate to reveal the identities of the bloggers even though no crime was found. Indeed. Machesy stated “I’d be disappointed in the detective if [he] didn’t do it.” So Machesy seems to believe that it is the job of the police to identify and reveal critics of churches. He seems utterly unconcerned about the free speech issues raised by Hinson’s act or the use of a government office for sectarian interests.

Brunson himself seems to believe that Rich was expressly mentioned in the biblical passage that “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of the needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of god.” Whatever the chances of Rich to enter the Kingdom of God, he (or his wife apparently) has little chance of entering the First Baptist Church. The good reverend has said that Rich exhibits an “obsessive compulsive problem” and is “not very stable at all . . . What you’re dealing with is a sociopath.” That last part could be the basis of a possible defamation against Brunson.

Rich has so interesting options ranging from lawsuits against the police, church, and Brunson himself. At a minimum, such a lawsuit might have a laudable effect of instilling a degree of caution and circumspection in this department. Even if the investigation was justified (which seems highly debatable), it is astonishing that the police would use a subpoena to deny a blogger anonymity and then turn over that information to a church for his ridicule and banishment within a church.

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22 thoughts on “Baptist Church Accused of Using Florida Detective to Uncover and Identify Critical Blogger”

  1. Clearly the police when they found there was no viable threat, and then informed the church of the id of the non threatening member, would know that that information could be used to cause harm to the member.
    That is close enough to intent to cause harm, and the fact that harm was caused to be good grounds for legal action.

    I do have a comment about McBurnson. As a “pastor” and a disciple of Christ, you are neither. what kind of example of Christine love, forgiveness and healing have you set for your congregation?

  2. I found your article through Stumble…
    Welcome to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office!!!! Everything we hear on the news here leads you to believe that JSO is fairly corrupt. We have one of the highest per capita rates of police involved shootings in the state…OVER MIAMI and this guy doesn’t believe sheriff’s office would do this?
    It seems to be the norm for Rutherford and his group around here. The state will back him up and ask questions later.

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