Attorney for activist Ben Frazier says client’s trespassing charge was dropped

An email sent Monday night by attorney John Phillips, representing Jacksonville community activist Ben Frazier, states that a misdemeanor trespassing charge his client was facing has been dismissed.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – An email sent Monday night by attorney John Phillips, representing Jacksonville community activist Ben Frazier, states that a misdemeanor trespassing charge his client was facing has been dismissed.

Frazier, of the Northside Coalition, was arrested Jan. 4 following a confrontation with members of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ staff prior to a news conference by the governor in Jacksonville. Frazier arrived to the news conference, where he and other activists planned to confront the governor on his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and other issues. Frazier was confronted by members of the governor’s staff, refusing to budge when asked repeatedly 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.

“We are pleased to announce that trespass charges against respected civil rights activist Ben Frazier were dropped on Friday January 21,” reads a statement from Phillips. “There is no need for a hearing; and there was, in fact, no need for an arrest.”

Phillips continued that there will be a process of legal action pertaining to his client’s arrest.

“Despite the Governor’s [office] saying they’d facilitate a meeting with Mr. Frazier, there is still no word from the Governor’s office. We invite that and suspect a simple meeting could avoid legal action entirely. It’s all he wanted all along,” Phillips continued in his statement.

In a statement, Frazier said: “Freedom of speech is as important today as it was when the Bill of Rights was first written. I am thankful for all of the people who supported us on and off of social media. It should be duly noted by all that Governor DeSantis is not above the U.S. Constitution. We invite him to live up to his office’s promise of a meeting.”

On Tuesday, Frazier told News4JAX that he still wants to speak with DeSantis and won’t rest until the governor addresses his community’s concerns.

“He has news conferences all over the state, but he never talks about the cares and concerns of Black Floridians and the poor,” Frazier said. “This governor does not care. He does not want to meet with the public.”

“We have the feeling that this government does not like talking about issues and concerns of poor people and Black Floridians. There are many glaring and gross disparities that he rarely talks about when he’s on his political campaign trail throughout the state. He doesn’t like talking about housing, health care. He doesn’t like talking about mental health. He doesn’t like talking about safe, decent, affordable housing and economic injustice,” Phillips said. “These are the issues that we wanted to hit, sit down and talk with the governor about face to face.”

Frazier told News4JAX the governor needs to “grab the bull by the horn and have an honest, productive dialogue with him.”

“Gov. DeSantis needs to pump his brakes so to speak. He needs to be called out publicly and reminded that neither he nor his proxies are above the U.S. Constitution,” Frazier said.

Phillips said: “So he was there to speak to the governor. Now, if the governor doesn’t want to speak to him, that’s the governor’s right. But you don’t then, you know, walk a man out of there and throw handcuffs on.”

Phillips is alleging the DeSantis administration is guilty of civil rights abuses and plans to seek further legal action against his administration.

“So we’re in the process of drafting the notice of intent to sue, you know, all the while noting that this was about a meeting with the governor, and if the governor’s office grants that request, I think it’ll forestall lawsuits,” Phillips told News4JAX on Tuesday. “That’s all Ben wants is to talk about the people of the Northside, the disenfranchised population that he best represents, and the government should grant that request.”

News4JAX reached out to DeSantis’ office by email and phone for comment but has not heard back.

Phillips and Frazier stated earlier this month that they planned to file a federal civil rights lawsuit if the misdemeanor trespassing charge was not dropped.

On Friday, News4JAX learned DeSantis’ office declined to appoint a special prosecutor to the case. A letter from the governor’s office to State Attorney Melissa Nelson states: “Because staff members of this office were directly involved in the circumstances and underlying facts necessary to support the arrest, we have concerns that the ends of justice would not be best served if this office were to select which state attorney should investigate or prosecute this matter.”

Nelson had appointed her own outside prosecutor with approval of State Attorney R.J. Larizza of the Seventh Judicial Circuit.

A public information officer for the Seventh Judicial Circuit confirmed the special prosecutor dropped the charge. A check of posted court records on the Duval County Clerk of Courts website Tuesday afternoon showed that the case was disposed.

Nelson’s office had no comment.

Following Frazier’s arrest earlier this month, DeSantis’ press secretary Christina Pushaw released a statement:

“The press conference is for credentialed media to cover information from the governor’s office and state leaders that is important for the public to hear. Mr. Frazier is an activist, not a member of the press. Every citizen has the right to protest in public places -- but not to trespass in a secured facility in order to disrupt a press briefing and prevent information from being conveyed to the public.”

Here is the document Phillips shared Monday night:

Court document shared by attorney John Phillips. (

About the Authors:

Tarik anchors the 4, 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. weekday newscasts and reports with the I-TEAM.