Clewiston Police Chief shares more information about curfew

By Aaron K. Angell

Chief of Police

Clewiston Police Department

June 5, 2020

Friends and neighbors, on behalf of the Clewiston Police Department I’d like to take a minute to share some information with you to address concerns and misinformation about recent events. First and foremost I’d like to extend my heartfelt gratitude to the citizens of the City of Clewiston, our friends and neighbors in the surrounding Hendry-Glades area, as well as all of our first responders and law enforcement officers who all were impacted by not only yesterday’s events locally, but recent events nationwide. If not for your collaborative efforts we would not all enjoy the benefit of living in America’s Sweetest Town. Thank you for supporting each other in these unprecedented times.

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News
CLEWISTON — The Clewiston Police Department shared these screen shots of social media posts.

Over the past several days the Clewiston Police Department received and was monitoring information obtained from a social media post regarding the possibility of a potential protest within the city limits of Clewiston. The referenced post indicated a “Peace gathering” for George Floyd which was alleged to be hosted by the Black Lives Matter movement on June 3, 2020 at the Clewiston Walmart. In response to this information, the Walmart Corporation made the decision to alter store hours and requested an extra security detail be provided by the CPD at no cost to taxpayers. Multiple law enforcement intelligence resources were utilized within this time to vet the credibility of the information and to determine the threat level to the community.

On June 2, the Clewiston Police Department learned of the attempt of the establishment of a curfew for “eastern Hendry County” to include the City of Clewiston from a social media post released by Sheriff Steve Whidden. The social media video announcement that was posted, removed, and later reposted as well as the subsequent press release by Sheriff Whidden reported that “the decision was based on social media announcements that Black Lives Matter (BLM) is attempting to organize a protest” and “additional comments on those announcements and other social media pages” that were “inciting criminal behavior and threatening to loot, damage, and burn private property.” Based on the social media video of Sheriff Whidden information utilized to determine the imminent threat of violence per statute was requested from the HCSO. In the spirit of full disclosure, all three screenshots provided by HCSO to CPD are attached below.

Florida statutes 870.041 and 870.043 determine when an emergency declaration can be declared specifying “overt acts of violence or the imminent threat of such violence”. As no such imminency or overt acts could be detected, the City of Clewiston was unable to establish the need for an emergency declaration based on the provided information.

Florida statutes 870.041, 870.042, and 870.043 determine who can declare a state of emergency and for what jurisdiction this can be established. These statutes designate the sheriff as the designated official ONLY in the unincorporated areas of a county and clearly designate the mayor, chief of police, or designated city official for cities or municipalities. This attempt to establish an emergency declaration within the city limits of Clewiston by the sheriff is beyond the legal authority of the sheriff under Florida laws. This matter was vetted before the city and county attorney. It is a misrepresentation of fact to report that the city of Clewiston chose to “opt-out” of the establishment of an emergency declaration. Instead the City of Clewiston acted within the scope of Florida law which requires overt acts or imminent threat of violence under the proper jurisdictional boundaries.

The decision to declare a state of emergency was weighed with careful consideration given the level of constitutional deprivation that is established in an emergency declaration. Depriving individuals of constitutional rights is not something to be taken lightly by law enforcement or anyone in a position of authority over free citizens. Given that Hendry County has been declared a 2nd amendment sanctuary any acts which interfere or attempt to curtail rights of law-abiding citizens, particularly with rights to bear arms are infringements.

It is important to understand that pursuant to Sheriff Whidden’s emergency declaration residents within the unincorporated areas of “eastern Hendry county” were prohibited during this declaration from the following behaviors as established in Florida law under Florida Statute 870.044:

• Prohibits the sale of ammunition or firearms;

• Prohibits the display of any ammunition or firearm in a store or shop;

• Prohibits the intentional possession in a public place of a firearm by any person (this applies to concealed carry authorized persons).

Additional discretionary measures that could also be applied include:

• Prohibition of the sale of gasoline;

• Prohibition of the sale of alcohol;

• Establishment of curfews.

It is important to understand that Florida laws provide law enforcement officers the ability to disperse any “riotously or tumultuously assembled persons” without an emergency declaration under Florida Statute 870.04. No additional steps need be taken for police to effectively police communities and enforce laws against bad acts. Plainly stated police do not need special authority or emergency declarations to prevent riots, looting, or other violent acts. Unwarranted curfews, emergency declarations, and demonstrations of force can inadvertently create conditions which discourage peaceful gatherings. Emergency declarations carry oppressive consequences that should be a last resort option. For this reason we see many other surrounding jurisdictions opting not to implement these measures even while protests are happening. Florida law, under Florida state statute 870.046 requires emergency declarations be published for the public. I encourage you all to review this declaration to determine the full scope of its prohibitions.

The City of Clewiston Police Department is confident in its ability to lawful police our community without unnecessary suppression of constitutional rights of the citizens we serve. Thank you for taking all the information into consideration when deciding whether the actions of your public officials best serve the public’s interest.

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