What started out as a typical First Amendment audit outside of the Gadsden County Jail and the Florida Department of Corrections’ Quincy Annex quickly turned into an illegal detention.
As PINAC investigative reporter Jeff Gray stood on a public sidewalk in Quincy, Florida earlier this month, taking pictures of the facilities and inmates, he noticed two unattended state inmates washing what appeared to be personal vehicles of FDOC staff.
As Gray took photos of the inmates, three FDOC officers approached him and claimed that it was illegal to take pictures of inmates as well as the facility.
“You’re not allowed to take pictures like that,” said Officer Allison.
“We’re going to have to ask you to vacate the area, ” said Lieutenant Hunter.
“You’re violating Florida statutes…Chapter 33, ” said Lieutenant Barr.
Instead of leaving, Gray maintained his right to take photos in public and lawfully refused to provide any identification or “journalistic credentials” that the officers demanded.
After being caught using inmates to wash private cars, Lieutenant Barr told the prisoners, “Shut it down, leave everything right there,” and called the Gadsden County Sheriff’s Office and the City Of Quincy Police Department.
Barr likely wanted to avoid having Gray collect additional evidence supporting the recent petition of State Attorney Willie Meggs to hold Gadsden County Sheriff Morris Young in contempt of court for allowing inmates at the Gadsden County Jail — including dangerous felons — to be released on furloughs without judicial approval, including escorts by jail personnel to family cookouts and private homes or motel rooms to meet women.
Local police officers were happy to help suppress Gray’s investigation.
“This is city property sir, move along.” said Officer Barber of the Quincy Police Department.
“What happens if I don’t move along?” asked Gray.
“You go to jail.”
When Gray was unfazed by Officer Barber’s bluff, Barber told Lieutenant Barr he would see if he could have Gray’s vehicle towed. Officer Barber then invented a law, telling Gray that Florida has a law requiring everyone to have ID on them at all times.
Lieutenant McWhite of the Gadsden County Sherff’s Department told Gray, “You need to produce something. You’re out here taking pictures of a correctional facility,” then illegally detained Gray for taking pictures in public and refusing to produce identification. “You’re not free to go. Sir, I need to see some ID.”
Finally, the strangest claim of all came from Deputy Tiffany Parsons as Gray was being detained. “You’re actually committing obstruction right now by not giving us ID….This is not a public building,” Parsons shouted at Gray. “This is a security issue because we have prisoners in here!”
“This is a First Amendment issue,” said Gray. “This is a Constitutionally protected right, protected by the First Amendment.”
When Gray asked Parsons why he was being detained, Parsons said “Because I’m conducting an investigation.”
“Based on what? What am I doing that’s illegal?” Gray asked.
“I’m conducting an investigation and my badge said that I can,” said Parsons, demonstrating an utter disregard for the First and Fourth Amendment.
The police illegally detained Gray for two hours while they searched the Wal-Mart parking lot for his car.
“Your license is in fact disqualified,” said Deputy Parsons, who then illegally trespassed Gray from the Quincy Annex despite Gray never stepping foot on the property.