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Homeless Man Jailed For Charging His Cell Phone

Homeless Man Jailed For Charging His Cell Phone

A homeless man in Sarasota, Florida was arrested after charging his cell phone at a charging station in a public picnic shelter. 28-year-old Darren Kersey was arrested around 9:30pm on Sunday by Sarasota Police Sgt. Anthony Frangioni, who told him that he should charge his phone at local shelters.

“Theft of city utilities will not be tolerated during this bad economy,” Frangioni wrote in his arrest report.

Kersey ended up spending a night in jail for the misdemeanor as he did not have $500 in bail. But on Monday, Circuit Judge Charles Williams threw the case out, on the grounds that Frangioni did not have the legal justification to arrest Kersey.

As the Sarasota Herald-Tribune notes, the ACLU is taking note of Kersey’s arrest for charging his cell phone in a public place. It is not at all the first time that it has accused Sarasota of trampling on the civil rights of the homeless. Previously, the ACLU sued Sarasota over a trespass ordinance that led to more than 6,500 people being ordered to vacate downtown sidewalks; city officials are currently rewriting the measure.

Michael Barfield, who is in charge of the legal panel for the ACLU’s Sarasota chapter and has been monitoring the police’s efforts to remove the homeless from city parks, notes that “so much happens on a daily basis, it’s hard to keep up with it. Every day there’s something new.” Advocates for the homeless note that those with money receive different treatment. For instance, those who own electric cars can charge them for free at vehicle charging stations located throughout Sarasota, including at its City Hall.

The morning after Kersey’s arrest, two homeless people were charging their phones at the same picnic shelter in the same park, Gillespie Park. One of those interviewed by the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Maura “Cookie” Wood — who cannot walk more than 20 feet and has slurred speech after suffering a stroke — needs to use the charging stations to charge her electric wheelchair. Noting she can’t get anywhere without charging her chair, Wood said that the police will just “have to arrest [her] for sleeping in public, in my chair.”

Other homeless people charging their phones noted that there is no sign posted saying that it is against the law for them to do so. Plus, they need their phones to stay in contact with family and others and to call 911.

As Barfield says, the city of Sarasota is showing every sign of making “war on the homeless.”

The head of the Sarasota police is due to retire soon and his replacement, current Ocean City, Md., Police Chief Bernadette DiPino, says she “hopes to implement a community-based strategy for dealing with the homeless, in which civilians who are familiar with local resources can intervene, rather than police.” DiPino hopes that social workers can assist Sarasota’s homeless to find shelter, food, medical care and other resources.

DiPino’s plans do sound like a step in the right direction, but it remains to be seen if and how they might be carried out. In the meantime, Kersey’s arrest is a reminder of why Sarasota was named the “meanest city in the nation” by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty and the National Coalition for the Homeless in 2006. The city has since lost that “honor” but its streets, sidewalks and parks are looking pretty mean again.


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5:38AM PDT on Aug 7, 2013

it was not like he was having a party using the city elect

6:54AM PST on Dec 31, 2012

Very mean indeed :(

7:47AM PST on Dec 20, 2012

that's ridiculous.

9:11AM PST on Dec 11, 2012

How can it be "theft of public utilities" when it's located in a public park with no signs of restriction posted?
Also, how much would the electricity used be worth? 1 cent? A nickel? What have become of Florida (Sarasota) when people are put in jail for something that's not even a crime?

1:26PM PST on Dec 3, 2012

ACLU of Florida is currently suing Sarasota FL for systematically targeting the homeless. "The ACLU of Florida is currently suing the city of Sarasota on behalf of individuals who have been targeted in the city of Sarasota’s trespass enforcement program. The lawsuit states that the overly broad application of the city’s trespass laws is being used by police to single out and harass the homeless and other groups without warning or due process."

1:21AM PST on Nov 30, 2012

Melissa, you've asked the same question I've e asked several times and as of yet, never read any explanation. I don't dress up and put on make-up when I go shopping. Wonder if I could be mistaken by some GUNG HO power-tripping cop as being homeless? Did this cop have prior knowledge of this particular man's housing situation? Did this guy (the homeless man) have a prior altercation with that cop? Did the cop just harrass him and single him out at this park without any provocation? Lots of questions we need the answers for, but it still boils down to a frivolous arrest.

I've been watching the news here and on all 3 local channels, they're showing how a King County cop used excessive force when arresting a guy on suspicion of "hit & run". He punched the man in the face (all video-taped on the cop's dashboard camera), stuck his fist in the man's throat and 2 other cops had him pinned on his back on the patrol car at the time. Now they're saying this guy "assaulted a cop" because he spit on the cop who punched him. It's all on camera. His "spitting" was a reaction to being punched in his throat! Watch prize fighters. When they are punched in the face, they release saliva. It's a reaction. This man didn't "aim" his spit!

8:24PM PST on Nov 29, 2012

That doesn't even make sense. It's a public area, for the public to use. If I sat down and charged my phone there, how would a policeman know whether I was a homeless person or not ? Are the homeless not part of the public ? It sounds like this cop was hiding behind his badge.

4:30PM PST on Nov 27, 2012

Even the Declaration of Independence has limits, life liberty and the pursuit of happiness. If Pee Wee Herman wants to go into a movie theater his rights end where the person in front of him begins.

7:07PM PST on Nov 26, 2012

That arresting officer just violated the homeless man's Constitutional Right , his right to the pursuit of happiness! So if the arresting officer had a legitimate reason to arrest the homeless man, he did right in arresting him. As it stands though I don't see where he actually broke any law. Unless there is a law against existing without a home! The officer should be reprimanded.At least. Don't people realize how hard it is to live without a home? How can the officer actually feel good about himself hasseling anyone worse off than he is? Should a person with that type personality and judgement/temperment be allowed a position of power? I think not! It could be that the homeless man would be a better fit as an officer of the law since he has lived hard and would understand how it feels to have been there.

12:27PM PST on Nov 26, 2012

Mark P.'s insulting personal remarks are not relevant to the discussion.

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