1. Florida Politics

FDLE admits overreacting to anti-Scott blogger's use of Beatles lyrics

Published Mar. 31, 2015

TALLAHASSEE — As a liberal blogger in search of followers, Daniel Tilson cultivates a crowd that dislikes Republican Gov. Rick Scott.

But when Tilson criticized Scott online and sarcastically cited lyrics from a signature song by the Beatles, a law enforcement agent showed up at his door.

The incident touched off a social media firestorm and cries of attempted use of police power to silence Scott's critics. On Monday, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement acknowledged it overreacted when it sent an armed agent to Tilson's Boca Raton home over a Google Plus post.

An FDLE agent was told to ask Tilson about an anti-Scott blog post that had references to the lyric "coming to take you away" in the Beatles' 1967 counterculture anthem Magical Mystery Tour.

"It was creepy," Tilson said.

The FDLE, which is responsible for around-the-clock security for the governor and his family, issued a statement Monday about the Tilson incident.

"FDLE agents will always err on the side of caution when judging the context of a blog, email or other posting," the agency said. "Commissioner (Rick) Swearingen is reviewing the incident and believes FDLE could have better evaluated the post and is speaking to all regions to ensure better coordination in the future."

The incident comes as Swearingen seeks to repair the agency's image in the aftermath of the forced ouster of his predecessor, Gerald Bailey. The dismissal was orchestrated by Scott's staff in December as the newly re-elected governor sought new leadership atop the state's premier law enforcement agency.

Bailey said he was driven from office after refusing to bow to what he considered improper demands by Scott's office and campaign, such as being asked to falsely name a court clerk as a target of a criminal inquiry. Scott has denied Bailey's charges.

Swearingen was selected unilaterally by Scott to succeed Bailey, even though the FDLE commissioner also reports to three independently elected Cabinet members. All four officials are defendants in a lawsuit by more than a dozen Florida news outlets, including the Tampa Bay Times and Miami Herald, alleging that the Sunshine Law was violated in Bailey's removal from office.

Scott has said of Bailey's ouster: "I could have handled it better."

In interviews and testimony before the Legislature, Swearingen has repeatedly emphasized his independence from the governor's office. But the Tilson episode handily fits a narrative pushed by Democrats that the FDLE, despite its requirement for political independence, does Scott's bidding.

Tilson, 57, has been a Democratic Party activist in Palm Beach County. He has a degree in film and TV from New York University, owns a video production company and has nearly 5,000 followers on Facebook.

Tilson decided to mock the "tax cut calculator" Scott set up in the Capitol for two days last week to show Floridians how much they would save from his proposed cut in taxes on cellphones, cable TV and satellite service. Scott has said a typical Florida family would save $43 a year.

On Context Florida, an opinion website published by St. Petersburg blogger Peter Schorsch, Tilson wrote about Scott's "crummy little tax cut" under the headline "Gov. Scott's Magical Mystery Tax Cut Calculator."

In a Google Plus post, Tilson quoted the song lyrics: "Coming to take you away, coming to take you away, #Rick Scott," and that caught the eye of an analyst in the FDLE's Fort Myers regional office.

In its statement Monday, the FDLE said the analyst told her supervisor, who alerted the FDLE's Miami office, which sent an agent to Tilson's home "to determine whether the post was merely referencing a song or something else. Following their conversation, the matter was closed."

Tilson said he wasn't home when a female agent visited his home Friday. She left a business card on his front door and they later had a brief telephone conversation.

"The (agent) was very polite and sounded a little bit embarrassed to me, and laughed more than once," Tilson said.

FDLE spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger said analysts routinely monitor social media "for potential threats" against Scott, his family, law enforcement officers, schools and shopping malls.

Asked if the governor's office had asked the FDLE to check out Tilson, a Scott spokeswoman initially would not say.

"I would refer you to FDLE," spokesman Jackie Schutz said.

In a later conversation, she said: "Absolutely not."

Contact Steve Bousquet at bousquet@tampabay.com. Follow @stevebousquet.


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