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Sheriff, nudists do battle

Sheriff Phil Williams drew a line in the sand after he was sworn in as Brevard County's top cop: Naked sunbathers would be unwelcome at this beach patronized by nudists for decades.

Thirty-seven citations and three arrests later, the sheriff has local nudists grumbling but vowing to keep baring all.

"We had a safe haven. We no longer have that," said Marvin Frandsen, vice president of Central Florida Naturists, a nudist group.

Williams, who took office in January, said he is going to enforce Brevard's ban on public nudity on all parts of Playalinda Beach at Canaveral National Seashore, which is managed by the federal government.

"The ordinance is the law of Brevard County," he said. "As long as it's the law, it will receive the attention of the Sheriff's Office."

Brevard and the National Park Service share jurisdiction over the beach, which abuts the launch pads at Kennedy Space Center, but only sheriff's deputies can enforce the county ordinance.

This month, deputies riding all-terrain vehicles made a surprise visit to the remote part of the beach used by nudists. The deputies cited 37 people for violating the nude ban and arrested three accused of battery and repeat violations.

Playalinda Beach is being watched carefully by nudists, who generally have encountered few problems in Florida. Nudists are fighting battles in Mississippi, Montana, Ohio and Utah, said Roslyn Scheer, executive director of the American Association of Nude Recreation, based in Kissimmee.

"The fight in Brevard County is extremely important," Mrs. Scheer said. "You're talking about a clothing-optional beach that has been there for decades."

Nude beaches and recreational areas exist all over Florida. Most are remote and known only to nudists.

The raid at Playalinda hasn't kept nudists from sunbathing in the buff, but it has made them more cautious. Michael Lombard, for one, now keeps his swimsuit nearby, just in case a deputy appears unexpectedly.

Williams' predecessor, Sheriff Jake Miller, was more lenient in enforcing the 2-year-old ban. Using an imaginary line that started at the northernmost parking lot on the beach, he permitted beachgoers who stayed north of the boundary to shed their clothes.

Williams, a former prosecutor, said his new effort to enforce the ban stems from a desire to uphold the law rather than to enforce public morality. The ordinance also prohibits G-strings, T-back bathing suits, thong bikinis and "dental floss" swimwear. Violators can be fined a maximum of $500 or jailed for 60 days.

The law, however, is being challenged. Three members of Central Florida Naturists have appealed their 1995 arrests to the 5th District Court of Appeal in Daytona Beach, which has not issued its ruling.