Kelli Hernandez wrote 1 May 2006 in the VDT, Court rules arrests unconstitutional: Case involves 15 citizens arrested and charged with disrupting a lawful meeting
The case originally surfaced after 15 Valdosta citizens were arrested and charged with violating statute 16-11-34 (a), which provides “a person who recklessly or knowingly commits any act which may reasonably be expected to prevent or disrupt a lawful meeting, gathering or procession is guilty of a misdemeanor.” Charges came after the group allegedly disrupted a Valdosta city council meeting in May 2005. Calle Fielden and Leigh Touchton, two of those arrested, appealed to the courts on the grounds that the statute under which the citizens were charged was unconstitutionally vague and broad.
On April 21, 2005, Rev. Floyd Rose addressed the council
during the citizen’s to be heard portion of the meeting regarding a push toward the renaming of Barber Park. Rose refused to step down from the podium after Valdosta Mayor John J. Fretti made the request. Rose, along with People’s Tribunal vice president Willie M. Head were arrested under the disruption of public meeting law.There’s more in the VDT article.
After the council voted 3-2 in favor of keeping the original name of the park intact, Rose and Head returned to the council one month later along with other citizens who wished to make their desires heard.
Rose commented that Barber Park was named after Ian Barber who established the park as a private park open to white citizens only.
Rose noted that the 15 citizens were not there protesting, but simply wanted to make a request to the council to establish a committee who would look at the proposal and make a recommendation to the council. The citizens wanted to see Barber Park renamed in honor of Ossie Davis, a South Georgia native, playwright and actor who passed away in February 2005. The group of citizens believed the request was well-founded because the park rests in a neighborhood in which 95 percent of the residents are African American. When council asked Rose to step down from the podium, the 14 other citizens in attendance stood up behind him.
Valdosta Police Commander Johnnie Fason entered the council chambers and requested that all those who wanted to be arrested follow him. Of the 20 who left the council chambers with the police, 15 were arrested and placed in vans for transport to the jail. They spent the night in the Lowndes County Jail until bond hearings could be held on Friday. Rose was placed in solitary confinement for 24 hours, and all 15 citizens were released on bond.
When asked what the ruling meant for the future of Valdosta and Lowndes County during an interview with a Valdosta Daily Times reporter, Rose said, “It’s going to say to the City of Valdosta that citizens have the right for redress of grievances before this government and that right cannot be abridged by laws that subvert the first amendment of the U.S. Constitution.”