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.


Related Care2 Coverage

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Rhode Island May Be First State to Give Rights to Homeless


Photo by Jeff Kubina


Karen P.
Karen P3 years ago

Now we have comments on people's profile pics for God's sake! Who cares if it's a photo of them, their dog, or the cake they made last night? ESPECIALLY when made by one not using their own photo as their 'avatar'? Good grief. Well, I guess with my profile pic of a fave ornament of mine, I have no right to comment. The issue here (I thought) is meanness of the human spirit and lack of compassion for our fellow beings.

Karen P.
Karen P3 years ago

Thank you SusanAWAY A., for your compassionate attitudes and for mentioning Diane S's wonderful posts regarding the plight of the homeless. A bit more kindness in the world would go a loooong way.

Karen P.
Karen P3 years ago

Tamara H. sounds like a real sweetheart. Maybe she and the arresting officer could get together under her big white floppy hat - 2 mean spirited people together......

James Simpson
James Simpson4 years ago

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

Spirit Spider
Spirit Spider5 years ago

Very mean indeed :(

Amber Beasley
Amber Beasley5 years ago

that's ridiculous.

Annmari Lundin
Annmari Lundin5 years ago

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?

Brandon Van Every

ACLU of Florida is currently suing Sarasota FL for systematically targeting the homeless. http://www.aclufl.org/news_events/index.cfm?action=viewRelease&emailAlertID=4002 "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."

Diane L.
Diane L5 years ago

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!

Melissa R.
Melissa Rashid5 years ago

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.