NEW PORT RICHEY — After getting an earful about a May incident between police and protesters at Sims Park, City Manager John Schneiger agreed Tuesday to sit down with the leader of the protest group.
Zachary Mitrovich, founder of the American Youth Movement 22211, blasted the recent review that found New Port Richey Police handled the matter appropriately. Mitrovich told City Council members on Tuesday evening that police infringed on his group's right to "peaceful demonstration" by threatening to cite them for trespassing.
Event organizers had invited the youth group to the May 21 Rock the Park, a daylong concert to benefit the Center for Independence and a local Marine who lost his legs in Afghanistan. But when the youth group showed up carrying protest signs and wearing American flag bandanas on their faces, organizers wanted them gone.
New Port Richey Police Chief Jeffrey Harrington reviewed the incident last month and said his officers stood by as event organizers asked the youths to voluntarily leave the park. Harrington said officers never issued a trespass warning or citation.
Mitrovich told the council that's "a bald-faced lie." In a video taken by another American Youth member, an officer tells the protesters they could face trespassing charges, Mitrovich told the council.
New Port Richey resident Daniel Callaghan, whose complaint about the incident led to Harrington's review, told the council that video "clearly undercuts the chief's view."
Schneiger told the council he would seek to meet with Mitrovich and Callaghan about the incident and report to the council on his findings. Mayor Bob Consalvo agreed to that plan of action.
Harrington told the Times he would be receptive to a meeting, but declined to discuss the specific comments Mitrovich and Callaghan made to the council.
Since the police department falls under his chain of command, Schneiger said he felt it necessary to offer a meeting to discuss the incident. He said Harrington may attend, as well as the city attorney.
"I'm comfortable with it," Schneiger said of the chief's ruling absolving his officers. "But I am always willing to sit down with anyone who has a concern."