The City of St Augustine was ordered by a Federal Court in 2009 to allow artists to create and sell paintings, prints, photographs and sculpture in public spaces; ruling that such was First Amendment protected activity.
Five days following the Federal ruling, Historic City News reported that the city manager, aided by the city attorney and police department, acted in apparent retaliation by allowing anyone to sell anything in the Plaza.
The resulting free-for-all, which the City created, was photographed by patrolman Douglas Tyus, and others, attempting to manufacture evidence of “visual blight” and “risks to public safety” — risks that would not have been present had the City simply allowed the artists to create and display their work in accordance with the Federal Court order.
The contrived crisis, brought on by unrestricted vendors of popcorn, sunglasses, snow cones, pillows, and every other non-artistic trinket, served to incite residents and merchants to demand the expulsion of everyone from the City’s public spaces. That may have been what the city manager wanted, but the artist’s rights were still constitutionally protected.
Continued erosion of artist’s rights in the face of the Federal court order landed the City of St Augustine back in Federal Court, an action referred to as “Bates II” named after lead plaintiff and local artist, Bruce Kevin Bates.
Historic City News recently updated the status of the lawsuit indicating that the outside law firm representing the City had managed to get an extension to either settle out of court or report for trial in January 2018.
In what some artists have described to local reporters as continued harassment and attempts at intimidation, SAPD Officer Douglas Tyus, approached the original plaintiff, Bruce Bates, on Tuesday, January 31, 2017 at about 4:25 p.m. and issued him a civil citation for violation of Ordinance 22-6 of the city code as he painted in the public space at Loring Park.
The citation indicates that, if he paid a civil fine of $100 within 30 days, he would not be adjudicated guilty for violation of the city ordinance. Instead, Bates, who stayed at the location even after receiving the citation, went to the police department and asked for a hearing on the citation to be scheduled.
Today, Historic City News has obtained a copy of a letter from Assistant City Attorney Denise May to Bates indicating that the $100 citation was issued to him “in error”.
Further the letter offers, “Please know that the City has identified the necessary training required and we will take appropriate action to ensure this does not occur in the future.” The 65-year-old Tyus, who issued Bates the ticket, was aware and participated in the original persecution of pleinair artists since being hired in 2008.
Bates believes that Tyus is paid $48,237.81 each year, plus benefits, to know what the ordinances of the City of St Augustine are before he attempts to enforce them.