CommunityPam's House Blend

Charges against Stanton supporter/Equality Florida ED dropped

On February 27, Nadine Smith, the executive director of Equality Florida, was passing out fliers outside a Largo City Council Hearing that said “Don’t discriminate” during a hearing where former Largo City Manager Steve Stanton was fired after announcing the decision to transition to become a woman.

Smith was wrestled to the ground by officers and charged with “resisting arrest with violence” and distributing fliers in violation of a city ordinance. Largo police spokesman Mac McMullen making the ridiculous assertion that “fliers present a fire hazard; plus, when they end up on the floor, people can slip on them.”

Today, the charges were dropped.

Now her fate also has been resolved: Prosecutors in the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney’s Office have declined to file charges on the felony and a misdemeanor of disturbing other assemblies.

“The state attorney, having taken testimony under oath at a state attorney investigation, concludes that the facts and circumstances revealed do not warrant prosecution at this time, ” prosecutors said in a new court pleading.

Nadine Smith’s reaction and statement are after the flip.Nadine Smith via email:

Statement from Nadine Smith, Executive Director Equality Florida

Until now, at the guidance of my attorney I have declined to speak out about my arrest, the brutal treatment by Largo police and the utterly false statements included in the police reports.  I have certainly wanted to talk.  It is very difficult to remain silent in the face of injustice, and now that these outrageous charges have been dropped, I think it is very important to speak.

But first I want to express the extraordinary gratitude I feel to the people throughout this community, this state and across the country who have written letters of support and sent words of encouragement. I am thankful to the ACLU for providing legal counsel and to the many witnesses who stepped forward to describe the violent actions of the Largo police and refute their fabricated justification for the arrest.

I know that others who have been wrongly arrested under similar circumstances and treated even more brutally do not always have access to dedicated attorneys or the broad support of a community rallying behind them.

Friends in law enforcement tell me this happens all the time. An officer loses his temper, begins an unjustified arrest and then adds a false ‘resisting with violence’  felony charge to cover their  actions.  The costs to the individual treated this way are outrageous: physical injury, emotional distress, a public assault on their character, the possibility of being sentenced to 5 years in prison, loss of their right to vote, and exorbitant costs for legal representation. Without the ACLU, I would have mortgaged my home to pay the cost of fighting these charges all the way.

When the charges are dropped the victim is supposed to be so bathed in relief and eager to put a painful chapter behind them that there are no consequences for the officer who has abused his authority.

So let me say now that  I believe this was an ugly act intended to intimidate people exercising our first amendment rights by an officer who disagreed with our message. How else to explain the rage and the violence of the arrest. Within moments of handing a piece of paper with the words “Don’t Discriminate” to a person who asked me for it,  I was grabbed, my wrists and arms twisted to near breaking behind my back. I was shoved down a hallway, banged against a wall and slammed to the ground.

I believe the people at the hearing who followed the police as they took me away and the photographer who snapped a picture of four officers kneeling on me as I was pinned to the ground may have saved me from greater harm.

I am proud that Equality Florida members and community supporters did not bow to intimidation nor respond in kind to the ugliness shown by Largo police at the first meeting. We showed up in even greater numbers at the second hearing and held firm to a commitment to non-violent social change and to speaking up when discrimination and bigotry show themselves in our midst.

I attended and spoke at that second hearing and the atmosphere was different. The officer who arrested me and the others who slammed me around were nowhere to be seen. In their place were fire marshals and police officers who dealt respectfully with those gathered.

The rules where posted at every doorway and when a student was asked not to hold a sign in the council chambers and asked “Why?” an officer briefly explained the policy.

I do not expect police to be perfect, unfailingly polite or without emotion. I know there are dangers and tough judgment calls law enforcement officers face constantly.  But when you wear a badge and carry a gun and have the power to use physical force and to take away an individuals freedom, you must be held to a standard that does not allow that extraordinary power to become license to abuse. You may not use that authority to silence dissent or to bully those whose opinions are not your own.

At moments like these police departments habitually close ranks and blindly back an officer no matter how wrong. But there is another way. Los Angeles police appear to be dealing seriously with the apparent misconduct caught on video of officers beating and taunting peaceful demonstrators.

Largo police should throw out the cliched responses. They owe the community the level of professionalism they displayed during the second hearing, not the arrogance and brutality shown at the first one. A public apology is a good way to start.

Nadine Smith describes the climate at the Stanton hearing. From my interview with her at the National Black Church Summit:

[I just saw that Autumn also has a diary up on this.]

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding