A Florida man who made a recent run at the Sheriff’s office now faces legal backlash in the form of fines, arrests, city ordinances, and liens on his property for free speech.
Protected free speech?
Not in Punta Gorda, Florida.
Almost a year ago, on October 22, 2020, Andrew Sheets was running for Charlotte County, Florida, Sheriff as a write-in candidate when he was trespassed from the buildings he wanted to oversee.
“All I did was go up to the window, ask for an internal investigator, and they trespassed me from all offices just for doing that,” Sheets told WINK last year.
Now, Sheets, who has been an independent reporter for Cop Watch for 9 years, is facing fines for violating the Punta Gorda City Ordinance.
Sheets is one of two Florida residents recently fined $3,000 for displaying political protest signs containing the message “Fuck Biden.”
Locals agree the ordinance was aimed towards Sheets since it was written shortly after his protest.
In June the City of Punta Gorda levied a $2,500 fine against Sheets. While co-defendant, Richard Massey, was fined $500, after deciding to fly a “Fuck Biden” political sign after also becoming personally angered by the ordinance after deciding to enact the law in May.
On August 25, 2021, the Punta Gorda City Council voted to remove two members of Punta Gorda’s Code Enforcement board following their conduct at a city ordinance hearing deciding whether to fine Sheets and Massey.
Jay Nadelson and Edward Weiner will no longer serve on the board, according to yoursun.com.
Prosecutors initially wanted to fine Sheets $10,000. But his attorneys helped him get the amount to reduce during a July 25 Punta Gorda Code Hearing about the matter.
The Punta Gorda city ordinance defines “indecent speech” as “language or graphics that depict or describe sexual or excretory activities or organs in a manner that is offensive as measured by contemporary community standards.”
Sheets, a long-time activist for police and government accountability, will challenge the City’s decision to prohibit speech, according to the Rutherford Institute, which recently agreed to represent Sheets in appealing the city’s decision to fine him.
The City’s new Sign Code prohibits outright any sign which contains obscene language or graphics. Section 11.4(a)(42), Punta Gorda Code defines the term “obscene” to mean “language or graphics that depict or describe sex or sexual organs in a manner appealing to, or intended to appeal to the average viewer/reader’s visceral sexual (prurient) interests, and taken as a whole, lacks any justification from a political, literary, artistic, or scientific value.”
Note, the definition of “sign” under the new Sign Code includes, “any device, structure, item, thing, object, fixture, painting, printed material, apparel, and accouterments, or visual image using words, graphics, symbols, numbers, or letters designed or used to communicate a message or attract attention.” As defined, flags are included in the definition of signs as are hats and other worn accessories.
Attorney Phares Heindl, who represents both men, for the Rutherford Institute, focused on the meaning of the language used by Massey and Sheets.
“The use of language is very important. And that’s why these men are out holding these signs because they have issues with the constitutionality of this ordinance,” Heindl argued.
“There are plenty of commonly used phrases with ‘Fuck’ that don’t have any sexual connotation like ‘F- — off,’ ‘What the f—, ‘F—ing idiot.’
“You don’t think when using those words people are trying to get out a description of sex?”
The City of Punta Gorda has yet to repeal its ordinance.
At the ordinance hearing to determine whether Sheets violated the city’s ordinance, attorneys for the city urged board members not to consider the Constitutional issues involving free speech.
Rather, they urged board members only to consider whether the defendants violated the ordinance.
Sheets and Massey aren’t the only ones who consider enforcing the new ordinance an overreach.
Charlotte County resident Hilary Caskey was with her young son when she received a warning from police about a t-shirt she was wearing.
“I was minding my own business when I was approached by two Punta Gorda officers who said they were acting on a complaint about my shirt from someone in the park,” she told the Epoch Times on August 8.
“My shirt wasn’t political in nature, but other people who had seen my shirt thought it was funny.”
“I have an attitude. Who the fuck knew?” her shirt read.
She said that she had bought the shirt in jest and, until she received a warning, others viewed it as a joke as well.
Caskey told the Epoch Times that her grandmother fled Czechoslovakia from Hitler during WWI to the supposed freedom of the United States.
“This is authoritarian overreach,” she explained.
“I’m not an overly political person, but when it comes to taking away my rights, I will do everything in my power to see that it’s stopped. I owe it to my grandmother who came to this country for these freedoms.”
Moving ahead, the city decided to require additional training in ethics and conduct for citizens selected to serve as board members.
City Attorney David Levin told the Punta Gorda City Council that notices of appeal have been filed against the city for the decisions made at the July 28 meeting.
When reached for comment Wednesday, Nadelson told the Daily Sun he had not heard of his removal from the board.
“I think that’s poor form,” he said.
“I’m astonished. I was questioning what the community standards of the sign code are.”
Weiner could not be reached for comment.