On Sunday 11th November, Sarasota homeless man, Darren Kersey, 28, was arrested in Gillespie Park for charging his cellphone at a picnic shelter by police Sgt. Anthony Frangioni.
Frangioni noticed Kersey charging his phone at about 9.20pm and arrested him for theft of public utilities. Kersey was obviously unable to come up with the bail of $500 set for the misdemeanor offence and ended up spending the night in jail.
In Frangioni’s arrest report, the cop wrote that he explained to Kersey that “theft of city utilities will not be tolerated during this bad economy.” He also told him that he should use local shelters to charge his phone.
It seems however that the Circuit Judge who heard the case was slightly more sympathetic to plight of the homeless; Judge Charles Williams threw the case out saying that Frangioni lacked the legal justification to make the arrest.
Frangioni – who is a 14-year veteran of the Sarasota Police Department did not return calls or emails from the Herald Tribune seeking his thoughts on the story. City Manager Thomas Barwin also refused to comment.
Police spokesman Capt. Paul Sutton said that the Chief Mikel Hollaway would be reviewing the case and a statement would be issued once the review was complete.
Kersey’s arrest has ignited the hostility between the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the city of Sarasota who have had numerous disputes over the way in which the homeless are treated there.
Last year the ACLU filed a lawsuit accusing the police of violating the civil rights of more than 6,500 people in the last 4 years by using a trespassing warning to move them off downtown sidewalks. After the lawsuit was filed – the city suspended this particular program and is the process of rewriting its trespass ordinance.
One particular bone of contention for those campaigning for the rights of the homeless in the city is the fact that Sarasota residents who can afford electric cars are offered free charging at stations throughout the city – whereas guys like Kersey get arrested for charging their cellphones at a picnic shelter! It is easy to see why homeless advocates would be angered by cases like this.
According to the Herald Tribune, several other homeless people charge their phones at the picnic shelter in Gillespie Park, they spoke to two who they found charging their phones on Monday – the day after Kersey was arrested. Angel Cowling, 45, and Edwin Sieg, 41, told reporters that there were no signs indicating that it was against the law to charge their cells at the facility and it was the only one in the area. They said they rely on their phones for emergencies and to keep in touch with their remaining friends and family.