JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Community activist Ben Frazier and attorney John Phillips said Monday that they will file a federal civil rights lawsuit if a misdemeanor trespassing charge against Frazier is not dropped.
Frazier, of the Northside Coalition, was arrested following a confrontation with members of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ staff prior to a news conference last week by the governor in Jacksonville.
Frazier showed up Tuesday to the planned news conference with health officials in Duval County, where he and other activists made clear they wanted to confront the governor on his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and other issues. Instead, Frazier was confronted by members of the governor’s staff and flatly refused to budge when they repeatedly asked him to leave.
Frazier was removed from the building in handcuffs and arrested on the misdemeanor trespassing charge. DeSantis eventually held his news conference elsewhere on the property.
At a news conference Monday morning, Frazier and Phillips said they hope the charge is dropped, and if it is not, they plan to file a federal civil rights lawsuit.
“From the criminal standpoint, or citation standpoint, we are asking for a dismissal of the charge,” Phillips said. “Two, there was an offer at the meeting for a scheduled meeting with the governor, the governor’s office — we want to take them up on that and address this.”
So far, Phillips has not asked for that meeting but plans to do so.
“I am not slinging mud at this governor personally. I am talking about the issues. I want the governor’s office and his proxies to stay on target and address the issues,” Frazier said.
In a statement to News4JAX on Monday, DeSantis’ press secretary Christina Pushaw said: “The governor wasn’t even aware of Mr. Frazier’s trespassing nor his arrest until after it happened, when a reporter asked him about it at the press conference later that morning.”
Frazier said he also plans to sue the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office for not following its protocol in arresting those with a disability. Frazier was not allowed to take his motorized scooter, which he uses to get around.
Frazier is no stranger to protest. He’s confronted government officials in the past and said he will continue to do so.
“We will continue to march to rally and demonstrate and to assemble and protest and we will be heard. In America, we have a right to express ourselves and to demand that our elected officials behave like true public servants. They must work for the people and we must hold them accountable and take your questions with the public,” Frazier said.
Meanwhile, State Attorney Melissa Nelson has asked the governor to appoint an independent prosecutor in Frazier’s case in light of the SAO’s ongoing relationship with Frazier “in order to avoid any appearance of impropriety.”