City under fire after arresting homeless man for charging cell - FOX 13 News

City under fire after homeless man arrested for charging cell phone at park

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SARASOTA (FOX 13) -

A Sarasota man was arrested for charging his cell phone at a city park. Was it really a case of stealing electricity, or simply a misunderstanding?

New city manager Tom Barwin is calling this all a big mistake – that the city had only recently taken over Gillespie Park from the county and was trying to figure out all of the electrical connections.

Some folks told us they felt the city turned off the power at the pavilion to drive the homeless people away, who use the public outlets to charge their cell phones and electric wheelchairs.

"I just got this job so yeah, I'm a little furious over it," said Darren Kersey.  "It was my break. I just started working."

Kersey is mad. He was arrested Sunday and charged with theft of utilities for charging his phone at Sarasota's Gillespie Park.

"I lost my job because of it," he lamented. "I'm unemployed now. I was appalled."

Kersey is homeless for the moment and trying desperately to support two kids.  He'd just started new job only days before, but failed to show-up for work because he didn't have the $500 to make bail and was stuck in jail.

"It's ridiculous," said Michael Barfield, who chairs the Sarasota Chapter of the ACLU. "It's just the epitome of ridiculous."

Barfield said the 28-year-old is the latest victim in a string of controversial moves by the city to push the homeless out of public parks.

"Mr. Kersey is another victim in Sarasota's war on the homeless," said Barfield. "He's not the first. Hopefully, he'll be the last."

Barfield sent a letter to Barwin asking him to take responsibility for a police department they claim is out of control as it relates to the homeless.

"He's the new city manager," said Barfield. "The honeymoon is over; it's time for him to step up to the plate and do what's necessary to reign in the city police department who are trampling on people's constitutional rights on a daily basis."

There are no signs posted saying you can't charge your phone at the park, so to charge Kersey with a crime Barfield said is mind-boggling.

"The city has free electric charging stations for the wealthy who drive electric vehicles at City Hall that anyone can go plug into," said Barfield. "But yet a person who is homeless can't plug in for a penny if it costs that much to charge their phone at a public facility?"

We asked TECO what it costs to charge a cell phone.

"Cell phone chargers use a small amount of electricity, even when they're not charging phones, they run about 7 cents a month," said Cherie Jacobs, the spokesperson for TECO.

A judge threw the case out.

"He said it was a first for him. He said it was a first," said Kersey.

The city manager was not available for an on camera interview, but told us Kersey should not have been charged with theft of utilities. The ACLU said it will be filing an action against the city.

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