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Homeless people take St. Petersburg to court over trespass warnings

ST. PETERSBURG — Seven homeless people are challenging the city's decision to ban them from Williams Park for a year after they violated the park's 11 p.m. curfew.

After losing appeals to overturn trespass warnings they received, the homeless people now are asking judges to rule on their cases.

The Southern Legal Counsel recently filed lawsuits after hearing masters at City Hall upheld the trespass citations.

St. Petersburg officials denied the homeless people their rights, said Neil Chonin, director of litigation for the legal group.

Florida officials treat homeless people worse than do many other states, he said. "They just have this meanness to them," Chonin said. "It's a very bad problem."

City attorneys declined to comment, as they do on most pending cases.

A St. Petersburg ordinance allows police officers to issue trespass warnings on city-owned property anytime rules are broken. The first offense brings violators a ban up to one year. A second offense could bring up to a two-year ban. Anyone can appeal the warnings in a quasi-judicial hearings at City Hall.

The seven cases all have different circumstances.

In one, Raymond John Miles, 43, received a trespass warning on Dec. 6, 2012, at Williams Park. He filed a hearing request Dec. 20. A day later, he contends the city denied his request because it was not filed within 10 calendar days, records show. Miles renewed the request on Dec. 27, but it too was denied, records show.

The Police Department doesn't keep a list of people banned from city-owned property, said spokesman Bill Proffitt.

Officers issued 3,605 warnings in 2012. Many of those were on private property, where the first offense is a 24-hour ban.

Once a warning is issued, the offender's name is entered into the computer system. If an officer enters the name again, prior warnings will come up, Proffitt said.

The legal group also represents Amber Jachimski, Gregorio Metos, Kim Ledger, Jeffrey Moore, Levi Hezellief and Jamey Couch.

Mark Puente can be reached at mpuente@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8459. Follow him at Twitter at twitter.com/markpuente.

Homeless people take St. Petersburg to court over trespass warnings 02/19/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 19, 2013 9:33pm]
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