Protester's Park Ban May Leave Florida City Liable
TAMPA, Fla. (CN) - An advocate for the homeless who was banned from the Florida park where he often protested may have a free-speech case, a federal judge ruled.
The July 10 ruling describes Williams Park as a battleground in St. Petersburg's efforts to reduce the visibility of homelessness from public view because of the large presence of poor and homeless people there.
Bruce Wright has long used the park to advocate for and protest on behalf of this community, but St. Petersburg issued him a trespass warning in March 2013, banning him from the park for one year, after he was arrested there for obstructing or opposing an officer without violence.
The trespass warning came one day before Wright's scheduled press conference at the park. Unaware that he could still seek permission to enter the park, and lacking the time to do so in any case, Wright did not enter the park for his press conference and instead conducted it from the sidewalk outside the park.
Wright sued the city in September, and U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Ovachevich refused last week to either dismiss the claims or grant the city summary judgment.
"These facts, accepted as true, support the conclusion that Wright has a plausible claim for relief," Ovachevich said. "Wright has standing because he suffered 'an "injury in fact" - an invasion of a legally protected interest which is (a) concrete and particularized, and (b) 'actual or imminent, not "conjectural" or "hypothetical,"' when he was not allowed the opportunity to exercise his first amendment rights on March, 28, 2013."
Wright had sought special permission for his "May Day" event planned for May 1, 2013, and ultimately received a "Notice of Temporary Suspension of Trespass Warning" on the morning of the event.
Ovachevich noted that denial of the request would have left Wright no time for judicial review prior to the event.
As such, there is a causal connection between the injury and the complaint.
"Finally, it is 'likely,' that the injury will be 'redressed by a favorable decision' because if the City is enjoined from issuing trespass warnings, Wright will not be prevented from expressing his First Amendment rights," the decision states. "Further, monetary compensation may redress the injury alleged by Wright."
St. Petersburg must answer the complaint by July 20.