A Florida sheriff violated PINAC reporter Jeff Gray’s right to record public officials in a public setting during his silent protest at the department’s annual awards banquet, which was held at the tax-funded St. Johns Convention Center in St. Augustine last month.
But St. Johns County Sheriff David Shoar insisted it was “private property.”
“You go outside. And hold your sign,” Shoar told Gray, threatening him with arrest. “But you’re not going to stand in here and hold your sign. This is our party. This is our special night.”
“I’m standing here quietly holding a sign,” Gray responded, referring to his sign protesting against two shooting deaths committed by St. Johns County deputies.
Gray was quietly standing in the lobby of the convention outside the door to their award ceremony on March 24, where they were planning on using tax dollars to hand out participation awards to their deputies. He was not planning on stepping inside the ceremony.
Although the longtime PINAC reporter gave the sheriff several opportunities to opt out of violating his right to protest and record in public, Shoar insisted on violating his rights anyway.
And even though Gray remained completely calm and reasonable during the interaction, the sheriff kept stepping closer to Gray, apparently attempting to intimidate him into walking out on his own.
Gray captured video, as usual, showing Shoar telling Gray he should leave on his own.
Gray chose to flex his rights instead.
The video begins with Gray shooting video of the sign he was holding to support justice for Michell O’Connel and Andrea Shel, two police shooting-victims who lost their lives at the hands St. John’s deputies.
“I’m going to be peaceful, polite and quiet,” he says as he walks in.
The begins showing the first level of resistance, a convention center employee who concedes the building is owned and open to the public, but threatens Gray with trespassing if he doesn’t leave leave anyway.
“It’s called trespassing,” he explains to Gray.
“This is public property.”
“I know, but I’m just saying that’s where they are now. They’re asking if you would . . . part.”
“Who was asking?”
“One of the . . . go ahead, sir.” the employee says just before Sheriff Shoar steps into the picture tagging along undersheriff Matt Cline.
“Jeff Gray,” the says, holding his finger pointed at Gray holding the pink sign.
“Who’s this guy?”
“My name’s Jeff.”
Sheriff Shoar walks over to the employee.
“Did he ask you–,” the sheriff points at the employee.
“Did you want him to–” he points at Gray.
“I just did,” the convention center employee replies.
“So,” Sheriff Shoar says, turning to face Gray, pointing.
“You gotta leave.”
“This is public property.”
“This is private property,” three reply in sync.
“Just do it, Jeff,” the sheriff suggests, pointing his thumb back over his shoulder back-and-forth.
“And, uh, if I don’t leave, will I be arrested?”
“This is our night,” the sheriff slurs. “OK?”
“Why would you wanna? Why would you wanna give us trouble at our night?”
“I have the right to demonstrate.”
“No, you don’t have a right to demonstrate,” the sheriff says with authority.
“This is private property.”
A city records review by Gray included in the video below reveals that was a lie.
“This is not private property,” repeats Gray.
“Yes it is,” the sheriff insists before cutting off a brief pause.
“Well, you’re leaving.”
“You gotta leave,” the sheriff slurs again.
“It’s private property.”
Gray and the sheriff ultimately agree to disagree about whether the St. John’s Convention Center was a public or private building, after the sheriff threatened to arrest him on trespassing charges for refusing to obey his order to leave the building.
“Only if I’m being trespassed.”
On his way out, Gray continued to ask if he’d be arrested if he did not leave the building.
“Yes,” they insist.
“Am I officially trespassed?”
“Stand by guys,” the sheriff orders the undersheriff and the convention center employee.
“So, if I don’t leave,” Gray asks as he walks towards the door.
“Are you guys going to arrest me for trespassing?