9/16/2013Florida Police Jail Man For Protesting Red Light Cameras
Man arrested for petitioning the Apopka, Florida city government to end red light cameras.
Police in Apopka, Florida arrested a man on Saturday morning for distributing a petition that would put the issue of ending red light camera use to a public vote. Mark E. Schmidter, a 66-year-old commercial roofing contractor, stood on the side of the road waiting for the light to turn red at the corner of East Main Street and South Park Avenue. Once traffic came to a stop, he would walk in between cars and distribute a double-sided sheet of paper. One side had a petition form that residents could fill out and a message urging participation in Wednesday's city council meeting. The other side provided information on why cameras should not be used (view flyer).
"Red light cameras are all about money -- not safety," the flyer said in large type. "Governments choose tax money over safety of motorists."
Officer Robert Campbell watched what was going on and used the public address system on his squad car to order Schmidter to stop. Schmidter says he was not able to understand what was said on the loudspeaker. Officer Campbell described the scene in his arrest report.
"As I was approaching him, I read 'BAN CAMS' on the sign he was wearing," Officer Campbell wrote. "He was holding a large stack of papers... I asked him if he had a permit to protest the red light cameras, and he said no."
At this point, Officer Campbell asked for Schmidter's identification. Since he was not driving, the man explained he was not carrying any. The officer then asked for his name and date of birth. Schmidter declined to do so unless the officer could show him what law he had violated. Officer Campbell said he did not have to do that. After asking one more time he grabbed Schmidter's wrist, handcuffed him, and placed him under arrest.
During the commotion, a man came out of Chuck's Wagon restaurant and identified himself as a former county judge to one of the other officers on the scene. He recognized Schmidter from a previous incident where Schmidter was jailed for handing out flyers on the courthouse steps outside of a designated free speech zone.
"That's the last person you need to mess with," the judge warned.
Schmidter's previous flyer case made it to the state's second highest court which in December found unconstitutional one of the county court administrative orders under which Schmidter had been arrested, but it upheld the other. The state Supreme Court declined to intervene, and Schmidter is considering an appeal to the US Supreme Court. On Saturday, judges were not the only supporters of Schmidter, according to the police report.
"Other protestors across the street began heckling me for making a bad arrest," Officer Campbell wrote. "This information was added to show the demeanor of the group the arrested male was with."
Schmidter says most of the motorists he spoke with that morning supported what he and his group were doing.
"Eighty percent thought we were sent from heaven," Schmidter told TheNewspaper in an interview. "They're so frustrated. The other twenty percent weren't interested."
Schmidter was charged with obstructing an officer without violence, a misdemeanor. He was also given a $65 ticket for a "pedestrian violation" and held for nearly twelve hours before being released on a $500 bond. Schmidter plans to fight the charges in court before a jury of his peers, saying his First Amendment rights were being trampled.
"It's selective enforcement, and that alone is unconstitutional," Schmidter said. "The homeless are in the street asking for money, and firefighters do it, too. We don't raise money, we let people know about the red light cameras."
Only 500 valid signatures are required to force a referendum on the use of red light cameras onto the ballot in Apopka. Out of thirty such votes around the country, cameras have lost ninety percent of the time (view list).