Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Seven arrested while serving food to homeless in Tampa without a permit

TAMPA — Jimmy Dunson was scooping quinoa and mushrooms onto plates for a line of homeless people Saturday afternoon when the warning came.

"You got 30 more seconds in which to take the table down or these folks will go to jail," said a woman who identified herself as a Tampa police lieutenant, according to a video from the event posted on Facebook.

Dunson and other volunteers from the group Tampa Food Not Bombs, didn't budge. Officers arrested them a few minutes later on trespass after warning charges on the grounds they were operating in the city-owned Lykes Gaslight Square Park without the required permit, a move the group has characterized as "criminalization of compassion" on a weekend when thousands have poured into the city for the College Football Playoff National Championship.

"We're doing an act of kindness and mutual aid, and that should not be criminalized," said Dunson, one of the seven volunteers who was arrested. "There shouldn't be this giant bureaucracy that keeps people from being kind to each other."

Police spokesman Steve Hegarty said the issue was not that the group was passing out food but that it did not acquire a permit to set up shop in a city park, which is required by city ordinance. Further, he said, officers warned volunteers from the group days before while they were passing out coffee and bagels in the same spot that they would be arrested if they returned again without a permit. The timing had nothing to do with the game, he said.

"We warned them: You set up table, chairs and everything, that's against ordinance," Hegarty said Sunday. "We told them exactly what would happen. And that's exactly what happened."

Durson confirmed group members were warned Tuesday by police, but it didn't deter them. The video, streamed live via Facebook, shows volunteers behind a table lined with food and a sign with the organization's name and mission: "Serving vegan/vegetarian meals to the houseless and hungry in Tampa." The lieutenant gave several commands for the group to take the table down before handcuffing them, some still wearing the plastic gloves used to serve the food.

"Please help yourselves," one of the volunteers said as he stepped away from the table.

Arrested were Dunson, 32; Bert Donaldson, 38; Dezeray Rubinchik, 38; Jason Grimes, 26; William Payton, 46; Roger Butterfield, 26; and Christopher Mince, 30. They were not jailed, Hegarty said, but rather taken across the street to the police department and released on their own recognizance with notices to appear in court.

At issue is a section in the city's code of ordinances that prohibits distribution of food to the general public without written approval from the city, said city spokesman Ashley Bauman. To use a city park for that purpose, a facility use permit must be obtained, which involves an application, potential fees and deposits, and liability insurance coverage of at least $1 million.

Dunson pointed to the insurance requirement as the primary reason why the group has not applied for a permit, calling the stipulation "absurd."

The group has held these events most Tuesdays and Saturdays for years, he said, with more than 100 last year alone. The last time the group had run-ins with police was in 2004, when five people, including Dunson, were arrested over the course of two months based on a rule that banned feeding people who are homeless in city parks. The arrests triggered protests by the group and a re-examination of park restrictions after a lawyer representing the protesters pointed out they were too broad to hold up in court.

Since then, the group hasn't had any issues, Dunson said. But with thousands in town for the football championship, he said he believes the timing was intentional.

"The city has a lot of money hinging on the events this weekend," he said, "so we don't think it's a coincidence that now is the time they chose to crack down on our food sharings."

Bauman said the arrests "had nothing whatsoever to do with the game."

"We felt action had to be taken because of the overwhelming and growing crowd in the park," she said.

Durson didn't have a crowd count for this weekend's event because it was cut off early and several people were there shooting video of the arrests, he said. But the group generally serves 20 to 25 people on Saturdays and roughly 10 more people than that on Tuesdays.

And as for this Tuesday, he said, they'll be back.

Contact Kathryn Varn at (727) 445-4157 or Follow @kathrynvarn.

Tampa police arrested volunteers from Tampa Food Not Bombs Saturday afternoon while they were passing out food to homeless people. (Courtesy of Tampa Food Not Bombs)

Tampa police arrested volunteers from Tampa Food Not Bombs Saturday afternoon while they were passing out food to homeless people. (Courtesy of Tampa Food Not Bombs)

Seven arrested while serving food to homeless in Tampa without a permit 01/08/17 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 10, 2017 10:02am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Rays power their way to 5-1 win over Orioles before embarking on crucial road trip

    The Heater

    St. PETERSBURG — The Rays didn't get many hits in the early going Wednesday, but they got a couple that went a long way and that was enough to beat the Orioles, 5-1.

    Rays right fielder Steven Souza Jr. (20) hugs catcher Jesus Sucre (45) after Souza's solo home run in the seventh inning. [WILL VRAGOVIC   |   Times]
  2. Man accused of sexually assaulting 5-year-old girl


    ZEPHYRHILLS — Pasco sheriff's deputies have charged a Zephyrhills man with sexually assaulting a 5-year-old girl in his care.

    Brett Campbell [Photo Courtesy of the Pasco County Sheriff's Office]
  3. Florida GDP growth in first quarter 2017 ranks 21st among states, still outpacing U.S.

    Economic Development

    Florida's gross domestic product or GDP rose 1.4 percent in the first quarter, slightly faster than the nation's growth of 1.2 percent and placing Florida 21st among the states for growth rates, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

    Not too hot. Not too cold.

    These Jackson Square Townhomes began hitting the west Hillsborough County market late last year and continued to be sold into the first quarter of 2017. The real estate sector was the biggest driver of Florida's gross domestic product, which rose 1.4 percent in the first quartrer of 2017.  [JAMES BORCHUCK   |   Times]
  4. Coming to Netflix in August: 'The Defenders,' 'Death Note' and more

    Krysten Ritter, Finn Jones, Charlie Cox and Mike Colter in Marvel's The Defenders.
  5. Report: $36 million worth of guns stolen in Florida in four years

    Public Safety

    An estimated $36 million worth of guns was stolen in Florida from 2012 to 2015, according to an analysis released this week by the Center for American Progress.

    Broken glass litters the floor of Tampa Arms Co. after thieves drove a pickup  through the front of the gun store and stole more than 40 weapons, including handguns and semiautomatic rifles. [JAMES BORCHUCK   |   Times]