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Local activist handcuffed at Gov. DeSantis press conference in Jacksonville threatens to sue governor's office

Frazier and Philips discussed future legal action and the alleged violation of Frazier’s civil, constitutional and criminal rights.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A Jacksonville community activist and a local attorney held a news conference Monday after an incident last week at Governor Ron DeSantis' news conference.

Ben Frazier, President of the Northside Coalition, was handcuffed and escorted out of the press conference after he refused to leave. Frazier said he and other community members were there to hold the governor, whom he called an "enemy of the public," accountable.

Frazier said he was held in a Jacksonville Sheriff's Office cruiser for 45 minutes. He was then released and given a citation for trespass after warning. Frazier has to appear before a judge within 10 days of the incident. 

“The powerful will do almost anything, they’ll go through hell and high water to keep some of us quiet about the issues that matter the most to the people," Frazier said Monday. 

Jacksonville attorney John M. Phillips and the Law Offices of Phillips & Hunt is representing Frazier. 

”This is our challenge: to dismiss this ticket ... for the governor and the governor’s office, if they’re truly sincere about all of the people and protecting all of the people, to sit down with Ben," Phillips said Monday at the press conference.

"If not, we’re preparing a notice of intent to sue," he said.

Phillips and Frazier said they're requesting a sit-down meeting with DeSantis to talk about issues facing people in Northeast Florida, and dismissal of the citation. If those demands aren't met, they said they'll file a federal lawsuit against the governor's office, and everyone involved in the incident, including JSO.

Phillips said Frazier's civil and constitutional rights were violated. Phillips said officers didn't allow Frazier to use his scooter to get out of the building, and violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.

"If we keep allowing rights to be stifled, if we keep allowing speech to be suppressed, we have a problem," Phillips said. 

Phillips also said Frazier was removed from the Department of Health, a public building, because the governor didn't like Frazier's message.

“Based upon the content of his message, he was arrested. There were no threats. There were no crimes. There was no intent to commit a threat or a crime,” Phillips said.

The governor's press secretary said the governor wasn't aware of the incident until afterwards. She also said press conferences are open to credentialed media to cover information and then broadcast it to the public.

She went on to say everyone has the right to protest in public places, but not to trespass in a  “secured facility in order to disrupt a press briefing."

“First Amendment rights to free speech, though, are not unlimited," attorney Jennifer Mansfield, who's unrelated to the case, said.

"The government is allowed to impose what are called content neutral time, place and manner restrictions. So, if he's being restricted merely because of his views, that's not content neutral. But, whether he has a right to exercise his First Amendment rights to redress grievances, or just to speak, is dependent on whether or not the location is what's referred to as a traditional public forum," Mansfield said.

Just because it's a public building, she said, doesn't mean it qualifies as a traditional public forum.

For example, if a protest is distracting employees in the building from getting work done, it's likely not going to be a public forum.

"It's not necessarily a slam dunk one way or the other in this particular case," Mansfield said.

Last week, State Attorney Melissa Nelson sent a letter to DeSantis' office requesting a court circuit reassignment for Frazier. In the letter, Nelson explained that Frazier had established relationship with her office. 

The Jacksonville community activist has a history of acting as an advocate, concerned citizen and adversary to members of the State Attorney's Office, according to the letter.

RELATED: Court reassignment requested for Jacksonville activist who was handcuffed and taken out of Gov. DeSantis press conference

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