ORLANDO, Florida (www.Forerunner.com) – American Liberties Institute attorneys filed suit in federal court Monday against the City of Winter Park, Florida, alleging the City unconstitutionally arrested two people under the City’s picketing code.
In 2012, the City adopted two new City codes that have prevented peaceful free speech activities. On May 18, 2013, the City enforced the “anti-picketing” City code by arresting two people peacefully standing on a public sidewalk in Winter Park. The two Plaintiffs challenging the arrests – Mr. Jay Rogers and Dr. Pat McEwen – were not violating any laws when the SWAT team swooped in and hauled them off to jail. Mr. Jay Rogers was standing on the public sidewalk holding a video camera. Dr. Pat McEwen was holding a Bible. The City incarcerated them both for “picketing where prohibited,” claiming they had violated a 50-foot buffer zone erected by one of the newly enacted City codes. After pursuing the criminal charges for nearly two years, Winter Park’s attorneys recently dropped the cases.
A federal appeals court in Atlanta struck down one of the newly enacted codes regulating “loitering” because it violated the constitutional protections for freedom of speech. The same court also held the other code regulating “picketing” was constitutional as written, but only if applied in a limited manner, holding “[T]he Plaintiffs remain free to march, to proselytize, and to distribute literature within 50 feet of the dwelling unit. They can even picket. If their picketing does not target a particular person, group of persons, or type of person who resides in the dwelling unit, they can continue to engage in general picketing within the buffer area.” In court filings, Winter Park’s attorneys argued no person could enter the 50-foot buffer zone.
Winter Park’s police, however, stated contradictory interpretations at various times. At some times, Winter Park officers were stating people could not enter the 50-foot buffer zone, while at other times officers were stating people were allowed to enter the 50-foot buffer zone.
“The federal court struck down one of the City’s anti-speech codes and limited the other. However, the City enforced the code in a manner directly contrary to the federal court’s opinion,” said ALI’s President, Frederick (“Rick”) Nelson. “Citizens should be concerned when local governments attempt to impose burdens upon peaceful free speech. This is a classic example of Winter Park overreaching by enforcing the code in a clearly unconstitutional manner.”
Contact: Frederick (“Rick”) Nelson – Phone (407) 786‐7007