October 25, 2005
Coalition For Free Thought In Media
Writer’s note: This
article was written on Sunday 10/23, and would have been released
nationally, but due to Hurricane Wilma I have been busy
covering the disaster and the ongoing relief efforts. I
am now releasing it to show the disparity between the St. Petersburg
Times coverage and that of mine from the scene as an eyewitness.
Palm Harbor, FL (CFTM) On
October 22, at approximately 4:00 pm, deputies from the Pinellas
County, FL Sheriffs Department arrested a 16-year-old boy who was
engaged in a peaceful roadside demonstration.
groups St. Pete for Peace, St Pete Food Not Bombs, and the Curlew
Bloggers were having a street corner demonstration against the Iraq war
and the Bush administration.
teenager was standing on the side of the road holding a sign that said
"F*ck Bush". The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman
Marianne Pasha told the St. Petersburg Times the arrest resulted
from the disruption to traffic and the teen's refusal to move. When I
contacted the department on Saturday they refused to discuss the case
or any of the issues of the arrest. (Because of his age, the department
cannot release the teenager's name. )
told me they were called to U.S. 19 and Curlew Road after a motorist
called to complaint about the sign. "The complainant had to steer
around (the teenager)," Pasha said. During the incident the deputies
claimed to have recieved over 25 complaints and admitted people were
using 911 to report the sign and also complaining about the
demonstration in general.
Teenager being led away by deputies. PHOTO-MARK DUFF
Deputies claim the 16-year-old antiwar demonstrator stood in the road and refused to move when ordered.
I was present and recorded the entire incident on audiotape and also
viewed the video taken by Chris Ernesto, an organizer for St. Pete For
Peace. At no time was the teenager in traffic or blocking the right of
way in any way. Numerous bystanders and eyewitnesses not involved with
the peace demonstration reported that he never entered the roadway
during the incident.
told the Times that the teenager cursed deputies when they asked him to
move out of traffic. According to the Times and a deputy on scene, he
was arrested on charges of disorderly conduct, breach of the peace and
unlawful use of a state transportation facility – i.e., the road.
Atkins holding the sign for approximately two minutes while passers by
screamed and yelled at him to put it down. PHOTO-MARK DUFF
standing right next to the teenager and recorded the verbal discussion
between him and the deputies. I have listened to the tape
over twenty times, and at no point did he ever use any
profanity or abusive words towards the deputies. On the tape you can
clearly hear Corporal Atkins asking for the teenager’s identification,
then making the statement "I was planning on arresting you anyway."
then said that he wasn’t going to arrest the teenager if he put down
the sign, but after asking myself and Chris Ernesto to turn off our
recording devices and getting a refusal from us, he went ahead with the
arrest. A heated argument ensued between the teen’s mother and
arresting deputies, but there were never any abusive or profane words
exchanged between the teen and deputies.
Donelly of Tarpon Springs, FL was parked at a nearby restaurant. He
witnessed the events leading up to the arrest and was outraged at
deputies treatment of the teen.
a Republican and I support George Bush to the end. That doesn’t matter
because these protesters should have the right to be here no matter
what I believe in," he stated angrily. "I thought this was America,
what the hell are they doing arresting a kid? I don’t agree with the
protest, but he didn’t do anything wrong. I never saw him go into the
road, and I watched the whole thing for about ten minutes before the
sheriffs got here. They just came up and arrested him because someone
didn’t like his sign. That’s not what democracy is supposed to be
about. Just because someone didn't like his sign, that doesn't
mean they can abuse the 911 system and get the police involved. The
ones who called 911 should be getting arrested instead of a kid."
initially involved in the arrest were Corporal Atkins, Deputy Earl,
Deputy Loftus, and a fourth deputy whom Cpl. Atkins declined to
identify. An additional scene supervisor, Corporal Felicetta,arrived on
the scene after about ten minutes had elapsed.
Cpl. Felicetta and Cpl. Atkins were observed attempting to interogate the teen without a lawyer or legal guardian being
present. The teen's mother was standing about twenty feet away and
asked on several occasions to be a witness to any interogation or
questioning. Deputies refused her requests and threatened to arrest her
if she did not leave the scene.
threats of arrest against the teen's mother and her other son were
repeated numerous times, and can be clearly heard on audio of the
incident. Deputies also threatened to arrest members of the crowd
that had gathered, and they became quite hostile in their attempts to
prevent the crowd from gathering and asking them questions.
remaining on scene with the teen in the cruiser for over thirty
minutes, deputies finally took him to the juvenile assessment center.
He was released to his mother’s custody approximately an hour after the
original responding deputies and an additional ten to fifteen deputies
then went across Curlew Rd. and threatened to arrest the entire group
of protesters for not having a demonstration permit. The protest
continued for approximately thirty more minutes before
the demonstrators dispersed. Numerous threats of arrest and a
state of general harassment continued for the entire time that the
protesters were gathered.
Ernesto of St. Pete for Peace says the peace groups will return to the
same corner to protest in the future. "They are not going to use
something like this to keep us from doing what we have a right to do,"
he said angrily. "This is a bunch of crap, they are just trying to keep
us from having free speech and to protest where it might offend some
Republicans. We’ll be back, and we’ll have our lawyers ready to enforce
our rights to be here."
I called the sheriff's department today, 10/25, to discuss what I had
recorded on tape and personally observed, they refused to talk to me
about it. The claim there is an ongoing investigation and
that there is no reason to have any
doubt's about deputies reports and details of the incident.
Corporal Atkins threatening to arrest the teenager’s mother. All photos courtesy of Mark Duff
Here is the St. Pete Times article: Protester accused of disrupting traffic