Fishing, sex, defecation on the beach drive Redington Beach neighbors to file lawsuit

Some of the people living on this stretch of Redington Beach say in a lawsut that a town ordinance contradicts state law restricting public use of beachfront property. [DIRK SHADD   |   Times]
Some of the people living on this stretch of Redington Beach say in a lawsut that a town ordinance contradicts state law restricting public use of beachfront property. [DIRK SHADD | Times]
Published June 17, 2019

REDINGTON BEACH — A software executive has gone to court to accomplish what his complaints to deputies have not: Stop people from fishing, having sex and defecating in front of his mansion on the beach.

Shawn Moore, 41, chief technology officer with Solodev in Orlando, has joined with some of his neighbors to file suit against the town of Redington Beach over an ordinance that they claim has opened the door to the bad behavior.

The ordinance contradicts a new state law that curbs public access to beach property, according to the lawsuit. At the same time, though, the town is failing to enforce a provision of the ordinance that is designed to protect private property, the suit says.

Moore called authorities four times in March to complain about people using the beach behind his gated estate along Gulf Boulevard. The property is listed for sale at $7.45 million.

Pinellas County Sheriff's deputies responded to the calls but found no violations, according to Sheriff's Office reports.

READ MORE: Beach access debate lands in Pinellas court

The lawsuit details a host of activities that the property owners describe as a "physical invasion" — including sex, defecation and urination, drinking, playing loud music, smoking tobacco and marijuana, engaging in "other drug activity," and setting up umbrellas, tents and chairs.

"Their private property is not for people to be camping out, drinking and partying," said Kevin Hennessy, who represents the plaintiffs — Shawn Moore, Dagmar Moore, Robert Dohmen, Shawn Buending, Thomas K. Brown and Harry and Wendy Fields.

The complaint is the latest in a series of court battles over public beach access in Redington Beach and across Florida. About 60 percent of Sunshine State beach-front property is privately owned, but under state law private ownership ends at the mean high water line — where the beach gets wet at high tide.

A Florida law that took effect July 1 blocks local governments from granting public access to private beachfront against the will of private owners — even if the public has enjoyed "customary use" of the property in the past. Approval from a judge is required to waive the restriction.

READ MORE: Redington Beach to ask judge for short-term rental ruling

Redington Beach didn't obtain this judicial approval when it adopted its "customary use" ordinance last June, according to the lawsuit.

The new state law applies to any ordinances adopted after Jan. 1, 2016. Town attorney Jay Daigneault has said that Redington Beach had an ordinance in place before then.

But one provision of the ordinance establishes a 15-foot buffer zone for private use below the high-water mark. The town has failed to enforce this provision, the lawsuit says.

Daigneault declined to comment on the lawsuit.

READ MORE: Rick Scott uses executive power in attempt to quiet beach access furor

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Moore is the only plaintiff to call the Sheriff's Office with complaints about beach activity, a search of sheriff's records found.

"The problem is that the police were not responsive because of the town's ordinance," Hennessy said.

Two of Moore's complaints involved men fishing from the beach.

One of the fishermen, Will Rawald, 53, told the Times he had spoken to Moore before and that Moore had described himself as a "good Christian man" who didn't mind sharing with people. But he also insisted the beach front was his, Rawald said.

In the first complaint, called in around 9 a.m. March 17, Sheriff's Deputy John Cronin found that Rawald and another man had valid fishing licenses and weren't violating any laws. When Moore heard this, he became "highly upset," according to the deputy's report.

READ MORE: New law Scott signed makes public access to beaches harder to establish

Rawald, in turn, complained about Moore on the neighborhood social media site Nextdoor, calling for him to be "publicly shamed."

The next time Rawald went to fish at the spot, Moore came to his seawall and yelled "f--- you Will," then gave Rawald the middle finger, Rawald told the Times.

On March 22, Moore called the Sheriff's Office about the Nextdoor post. Moore was "emotional and upset" and called the post a "violent threat against his family," according to a deputy's report.

Attorney Hennessy told the Times that the Nextdoor post was "inaccurate and taken out of context."

Contact Ben Leonard at Follow @Ben___Leonard