In response to a recent court order prohibiting the arrest of homeless people sleeping in public, the Ocala City Council on Tuesday unanimously agreed to change the city’s open lodging and trespass ordinance.
Prior to the change, the ordinance allowed police to arrest someone in the city if they were sleeping in public and admitted to being homeless.
Tuesday night’s change removed that section.
During the council meeting on Feb. 16, while introducing the change, Patrick Gilligan, one of the city’s attorneys, told council members that the reference to homelessness was unnecessary.
“We don’t arrest people because they are homeless,” Gilligan said. “Contrary to popular opinion, our officers exercise tremendous discretion and humanity in dealing with people they deal with.”
In addition to ordering the city to stop arresting people for sleeping in public, U.S. District Judge James Moody also ordered the city to stop issuing trespass warnings without due process.
Gilligan said he met with Ocala Police Department Chief Mike Balken and Mayor Kent Guinn and believes they came up with a due process method that that court would accept.
People issued trespass warnings for public property will be able to appeal those to the police department. The move would require printing new trespass warnings citations, which would include information on how to appeal. Gilligan said the appeals would apply to public property only.
In September 2019, The ACLU of Florida, Southern Legal Counsel and Andy Pozzuto sued the city on behalf of plaintiffs Patrick McArdle, Courtney Ramsey and Anthony Cummings, arguing the city’s ordinance violated the plaintiff’s rights under the Eighth and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
On Feb. 8, the court ruled arresting homeless people who don’t have access to shelters is cruel and unusual punishment violating the Eighth Amendment. Issuing trespass warnings without a process for appeal violated the 14th Amendment’s due process clause.
The attorneys for the plaintiffs also are seeking $697,421 in attorneys’ fees and $49,979.58 in expenses from the city.