Advertisement
  1. News

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

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)
Published Jan. 10, 2017

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 kvarn@tampabay.com. Follow @kathrynvarn.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Visit tampabay.com for the latest updates.
    Charges in the accident are pending.
  2. Florida Supreme Court Justices Barbara Lagoa, left, and Robert Luck, right, were appointed to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta by President Trump. Florida Supreme Court
    Ok losers, who needs access to our state politicians, anyway?
  3. Earlier today• Pasco
    The Dade City Monarch Butterfly Festival will be Oct. 12 in Hibiscus Park. AP
    News and notes from Pasco County
  4. Bubba's 33 recently broke ground on its first restaurant in Florida, which will open in Wesley Chapel in December. Pictured, left to right: Experience Florida's Sports Coast (Tourism) Director Adam Thomas, Bubba's 33 marketing director Crista Demers-Dean, Bubba's 33 managing partner Jeff Dean, Pasco County Commissioner Mike Moore and North Tampa Bay Chamber CEO Hope Allen. Andy Taylor
    News and notes on local businesses
  5. Taylor Bland-Ball, 22, posted this photo and open letter to Judge Thomas Palermo to her Instagram account on September 10, the day after she lost custody of her 4-year-old son Noah McAdams. The boy's parents wanted to treat his leukemia with natural health care remedies instead of chemotherapy. [Instagram] ANASTASIA DAWSON  |  Instagram
    The couple refused chemotherapy for their son, instead seeking alternative treatments including dietary plans, alkaline water and THC and CBD oil treatments
  6. Mos Antenor, 42, drives a bulldozer while clearing the road after Hurricane Dorian Mclean's Town, Grand Bahama, Bahamas, Friday Sept. 13, 2019. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa) RAMON ESPINOSA  |  AP
    Threatening to exacerbate islands’ problems, Humberto’s rains were falling on Abaco island.
  7. Check tampabay.com for the latest breaking news and updates.
    His infant daughter suffered life-threatening injuries, officials said.
  8. In this Monday, Sept. 9, 2019, photo, Rod and Tonya Meldrum hold a portrait of their son Devin Meldrum, in Provo, Utah. He suffered from debilitating cluster headaches and fatally overdosed after taking a single fentanyl-laced counterfeit oxycodone pill purchased from a dark-web store run by Aaron Shamo, according to his family and authorities. Shamo was not charged in Meldrum’s death, and his lawyers have argued that and other alleged overdoses can’t be definitively linked to him. RICK BOWMER  |  AP
    A clean-cut, 29-year-old college dropout and Eagle Scout named Aaron Shamo made himself a millionaire by building a fentanyl trafficking empire with not much more than his computer and the help of a...
  9. This photo of Patti Baumgartner, a Montana grandmother who wanted to slow down speeding drivers, went viral. Noah Pesola
    The photo of her sitting on the side of a road went viral.
  10. Members of the fire rescue team Task Force 8, from Gainesville, Florida, help remove a body one week after Hurricane Dorian hit The Mudd neighborhood in the Marsh Harbor area of Abaco Island, Bahamas, Monday, Sept. 9, 2019. Dorian, the most powerful hurricane in the northwestern Bahamas' recorded history, has killed at least 44 people in Bahamas as of Sunday, Sept. 8, according to the government. GONZALO GAUDENZI  |  AP
    Many in the northwestern Bahamas, known for its casinos, golf courses and mega yachts, worry they will be forced into deep poverty.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement