Police are getting aggressive about aggressive panhandling

In addition to a second-degree felony arrest of 61-year-old Deborah L Jackson of North Whitney Street for aggravated battery and a first-degree misdemeanor arrest of 64-year-old Kathleen A Ozbilen of Palm Coast for driving under the influence, St Augustine city police found time to arrest seven vagrants; each charged with various municipal ordinance violations.

While Jackson is being held in lieu of $25,000 and Ozbilen is being held in lieu of $2,500 bail, the ordinance violations each require the defendant to post a $200 appearance bond.

Vagrants arrested in the last 24-hours:

• 65-year-old William Mathew Anderson, (B/ MALE )
• 35-year-old Tia Lisa Downour, (W/ FEMALE )
• 43-year-old John Allison Greer, (W/ MALE )
• 21-year-old Douglas Anthony Morrison, (W/ MALE )
• 46-year-old Randall Wayne Pendergraff, (W/ MALE )
• 62-year-old Mingo Rollins, (B/ MALE )
• 40-year-old Jason Eric Yarbrough, (W/ MALE )

During the past 60-90 days, the City of St Augustine has stepped up prosecution of trespassers, prowlers, open container violators, and panhandlers who have inundated the most heavily traveled portions of the Colonial Quarter, sidewalks along St George Street, and other public and private spaces downtown, making residents and visitors concerned for their safety.

Residents incensed with a past lack of enforcement and police presence following a controversial warning by City Attorney Isabelle Lopez that the “city could be sued” based on a Tampa ruling that panhandling is apparently constitutionally protected under the First Amendment, formed a Citizen’s Watch group as a first step to document the problematic behavior of career beggars.

Lopez, who a growing number of residents believe should either resign or be fired for malpractice and nonfeasance, apparently was blind to the other risks presented by the “panhandlers”. She has been accused of laziness and making the problem worse by ignoring the public defecation and urination, aggressive behavior, camping on public property, sleeping on benches, and a host of other public health and safety hazards, like vomiting on trash cans or on outdoor furniture and walkways, none of which were at issue in the Tampa appeal.

Instead of defending the community from those clear dangers, she occupied herself denying the First Amendment rights of creative artists who once peacefully shared the public parks and plazas in the city. Certainly they made the landscape more beautiful — instead of more toxic.

Confronted with a mountain of evidence collected by the citizen volunteers, detailing identity, time, location, and nature of misconduct or violations, the police now seem emboldened — either of their own accord, or because the city manager, John Regan, got the message that it is an election year.  And, if he continues to ignore the facts, his career prospects in St Augustine are grim.

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