JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A Jacksonville community activist was handcuffed and given a citation for trespassing after warning ahead of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' scheduled news conference at the Duval County Department of Health Tuesday morning.
Northside Coalition Founder Ben Frazier told DeSantis' staff members who were trying to remove anyone who is not a member of the media that he and other community members were present to hold the governor, whom he called an "enemy of the public," accountable.
Jacksonville Sheriff's Officers on site placed Frazier in handcuffs and put him in the back of a JSO patrol car.
Frazier tells First Coast News he was only held by police in a cruiser for about 45 minutes before being issued a citation. A previous version of this story indicated he was taken to jail, that is incorrect.
Earlier, a governor's aide attempted to throw out anyone in the room who was not a member of the media. Frazier told the aide he had a right to peacefully assemble in the public building and ask DeSantis questions.
"The governor is running," Frazier said when DeSantis' staffers said he would not be coming out for the press conference until the room was cleared of non-media members.
Another of the governor's staffers came into the room to say those in attendance who were not media members could speak to the governor at another time. There were people present from the Northside Coalition, Take 'Em Down Jax, Harriet Tubman Freedom Fighters and Florida Rising.
Earlier, as a First Coast News reporter on the scene arrived to the news conference, a protestor walked in, and a man who appeared to be a security staff member escorted her out.
The Governor's Office offered this statement as a result of the incident:
"The purpose of an official 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. Press conferences are not “private events,” because members of the press can RSVP and attend, and they broadcast the press conference to the public.
The protester detained by Jacksonville police for trespassing this morning is not a member of the press. Mr. Frazier is an activist who has disrupted official proceedings several times before, including a State Board of Education meeting and a City Council meeting that was forced to adjourn early due to his disruptive behavior.
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.
The White House is also a government building, so it is public property. If Mr. Frazier had attempted to enter a White House press briefing to “protest peaceably” in front of President Biden, Mr. Frazier would likewise have been removed and detained. The only difference would be the liberal media’s reaction, or lack thereof. "
Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried offered the following statement:
“The extremely disturbing events we saw take place today, arresting an individual for simply asking to speak with the Governor at a press conference held on government property discussing public health policy, were a realization of our fears surrounding HB1’s enactment. HB1 set a dangerous precedent, disallowing individuals from speaking their minds and peacefully gathering – freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment. I hope that any charges brought against Mr. Frazier, a respected civil rights activist in the community, are swiftly dropped and apologies issued for infringing on his rights. The Governor should be ashamed."
The governor was scheduled to speak from the Duval County Florida Department of Health on North Davis Street at 10:15 a.m., along with Florida Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo, Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Simone Marstiller and Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie.