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Judge tosses lawsuit by man banned from Hemming Park

Jacksonville, mayor, group running park named in suit over loitering rules

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – As Jacksonville attempts to revitalize its downtown, some people complain they are being forced out of city parks illegally.

As part of the city's efforts to encourage more people to come to Hemming Park, there's music, new places for people to relax, even food trucks. It’s the image the city is trying to showcase at the park in front of City Hall.

But the changes have made some people feel unwelcome, and Alvin Xex filed a federal lawsuit against the city, Mayor Lenny Curry, Friends of Hemming Park, its CEO and Central Security, its private security company.

He complained that the city's enforcement of state loitering laws is unfair.

Florida Statute 856.021

It is unlawful for any person to loiter or prowl in a place, at a time or in a manner not usual for law-abiding individuals, under circumstances that warrant a justifiable and reasonable alarm or immediate concern for the safety of persons or property in the vicinity.

But a judge told Xex when he first filed the lawsuit in June that he needed to revise it to fix certain problems. That judge said the revised suit Xex filed didn't address the issues, so he threw out the lawsuit.

What sparked lawsuit?

Xex said he was forced to leave Hemming Park and told to never return after he questioned protesters to support keeping Confederate statues.

"We exchanged words. Just words. And security, about five minutes afterward, came in and forced me out of the park. And I let them know it’s a public space," Xex said. "He said, 'You can’t stand on the sidewalk.' I let them know, 'You are wrong.'"

He admits the loitering rules that security was enforcing are posted, but believes that those rules are illegal.

"Is loitering standing there two minutes? Twenty seconds?" Xex said. "I see men all the time standing there in business suits. Some standing there two minutes; five minutes. What constitutes loitering?"

Xex filed a federal complaint asking a judge to overturn them.

Posted Hemming Park rules

  • Enjoy the park in a way that does not disturb others
  • No disturbing the peace in the form of loud music, loud debates and/or discussions, from friendly or otherwise
  • No littering please dispose of all waste and designated receptacles
  • No indecent exposure
  • No panhandling or aggressive begging

Read full park rules from HemmingPark.org

According to the complaint: "The city violated not only state laws, but federal laws, harming my civil rights," 

Xex said he is not homeless, but feels like he has to take a stand for others.

City officials declined to comment on the lawsuit, but last month the CEO of Friends of Hemming Park, the nonprofit group that oversees the park, denied that the rules were designed to keep certain people away.

"If you’re going to be in the park, you have to abide by the rules," Bill Prescott said. "You have to make it welcoming for everybody. That’s really the only change we made. You have to enforce the rules of the park, and that’s made the people who were there decide to go someplace else."

There was no monetary claim in the complaint. What Xex said he most wanted was for a judge to tell the city it cannot force people from a public space like Hemming Park.

About the Authors:

Jim Piggott is the reporter to count on when it comes to city government and how it will affect the community.

Created WJXT.com in 1995 and managed The Local Station's website ever since.