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Florida pastor ordered to leave public meeting for standing

The pastor said he had to stand because of his bad back
Posted at 4:22 PM, Nov 14, 2019

BRADENTON, Fla. -- A Bradenton pastor standing at a public meeting was ordered to leave because he was doing just that, standing.

ABC Action News has confirmed that Pastor Arthur Huggins, of Bradenton, was asked to leave the Nov. 12 meeting for standing.

Huggins said after sitting for nearly four hours waiting for public comment, he had to stand because of his bad back.

That’s when Huggins said a security officer approached him and told him he had to sit down or leave.

“Then he repeated himself, ‘you’re going to have to sit down or leave,’” said Huggins, “I just looked at him, and he went storming out the door and that’s when he brought the officer in.”

Huggins said being part of the community for 25 years, the entire process was humiliating.

“I asked, 'what did I do wrong?' I was just simply standing up to relieve my back,” Huggins said when the officer approached him.

“I felt like I became robbed of my right to be able to voice and it almost seemed like you’re targeting certain people.”

'IT REALLY BECOMES SUSPICIOUS'

Huggins, an advocate for bridging the racial gap says he does not want it to be a race issue, but he questions if it was a factor.

“You start nitpicking, and finding reasons to do it, it really becomes suspicious,” he added.

A witness tells ABC Action News that the public comment session to speak at the board meeting on Tuesday was at the end of the meeting, so everyone had to wait.

“He literally sat for almost four hours, in the far last seat, and he wasn’t blocking any aisle way or entry way, and he wasn’t blocking anyone's view,” said Bridget Mendel, who was in the audience to also speak at public comment.

“And, if he was partially blocking someone’s view, it was for seconds,” she said.

Mendel said she is a candidate for a school board district 1 seat in Manatee County and regularly attends the meetings.

She said when she noticed what happened, she started recording.

Mendel said Huggins never made a scene, and left quietly. You can see in the cell phone video he was leaving from the near back of the board room.

“He was literally thrown out for being black,” said Mendel, “we knew of no new policy that there was no standing.”

The Florida chapter of The American Civil Liberties Union tells ABC Action News they have not heard of someone being removed while standing like this.

Michael Barfield, president of the Florida ACLU, said they plan to talk with their legal chapter in Tampa about this.

“They can not violate peoples rights like this without repercussions,” said Barfield.

Barfield went on to say someone is to be removed while being disruptive, and say standing is an unreasonable conclusion.

“It was his right to speak at a public meeting, at the very at least his rights to attend and participate, and it was violated under Florida constitution,” said Michael Barfield, president of ACLU of Florida.

SCHOOL DISTRICT RESPONDS

Officials with the Manatee County School District tell us that they have recently implemented a no-standing policy.

ABC Action News requested where this policy is made public, and they cited a sign that was posted on the door of the meeting room.

This is the photo provided to ABC Action News:

Nowhere in the photo does it mention the public can not stand.

ABC Action News received a statement that talks of the new policy that was implemented because of prior board meetings that became disruptive:

“After consultation with local Law Enforcement,  the School District of Manatee County recently instituted a series of additional security protocols for school board meetings.  The new security protocols were initiated because previous board meetings had become over-crowded with people standing in the aisles and blocking the walkways, which was disruptive to school board proceedings. 
 
One of the new safety protocols was to limit attendance to the number of seats in the board room. In order to maintain that protocol, we ask attendees to remain seated while they are in the board room unless they are asked to stand as a part of the proceedings. This is accomplished by security personnel monitoring how many people enter the board room. Once all of the seats are filled, the security personnel ask additional attendees to wait outside until seats open up.”

Following the statement from the district’s general counsel, Mitchell Teitelbaum said that Mr. Huggins was not adhering to the protocols.

“When Mr. Huggins was approached by the School District’s Chief of Security, Paul D’Amico, he was asked to take a seat, in accordance with the new protocols. Mr. Huggins refused. His insistence on remaining standing led to a disruption of the school board proceedings and caused Chief of Security D’Amico to have him removed from the board room.
 
As the Presiding Officer, the School Board Chair is empowered under FS 1001.372 to remove a person that causes a disturbance from a Board Room.  In addition, FS 877.13 also allows the removal of an individual that disrupts a Board Meeting.
877.13 Educational institutions or school boards; penalty for disruption. —
(1) It is unlawful for any person:
(a) Knowingly to disrupt or interfere with the lawful administration or functions of any educational institution, school board, or activity on school board property in this state.
(b) Knowingly to advise, counsel, or instruct any school pupil or school employee to disrupt any school or school board function, activity on school board property, or classroom.
(c) Knowingly to interfere with the attendance of any other school pupil or school employee in a school or classroom.
(d) To conspire to riot or to engage in any school campus or school function disruption or disturbance which interferes with the educational processes or with the orderly conduct of a school campus, school, or school board function or activity on school board property.
(2) This section shall apply to all educational institutions, school boards, and functions or activities on school board property; however, nothing herein shall deny public employees the opportunity to exercise their rights pursuant to part II of chapter 447.
(3) Any person who violates the provisions of this section is guilty of a misdemeanor of the second degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.”