Last month, a member of the Democratic National Committee got kicked out of the Port of Miami during a public meeting and press event after action by the law enforcement agency that reports to Florida’s Governor.
Newly released public records reveal that an official from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) visited the Miami-Dade Police Department to provide secret information aimed at statewide elected DNC member Tomas Kennedy.
An FDLE Special Agent visited the Miami-Dade PD on April 7th, 2021, to deliver what must have been a stark warning about Kennedy, whom their police report describes as a “known agitator.” Interestingly, the phrase “professional agitator” is a DeSantis saying he used when announcing Florida’s anti-protest law last September to describe the political opponents he wishes to silence with the state’s new law he signed last week.
County officers detained him a day later.
Then they expelled him from the Governor’s press conference while giving the public a reason that contradicted their own police report.
Now, the Miami-Dade police are slow-walking mandatory records production which would shed more light on the incident. They’re also claiming the FDLE’s briefing materials are no longer in their possession.
Both Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) and state Attorney General Ashley Moody oversee the FDLE, itself an agency of the state’s Cabinet of which they represent half the membership. The pair held a public meeting and press availability together on April 8th at the Port of Miami to discuss their ongoing efforts to influence the federal Centers for Disease Control’s public health policy decision to shut down the cruise industry due to Covid-19.
When the DNC member Kennedy arrived in the Port of Miami’s ground-level parking lot to attend the event, he was immediately detained by police, given a trespass warning. He posted a short clip of the incident onto Twitter, as the Miami New Times newspaper reported, after departing the event in his decade-old Mazda. Ironically, AG Moody told the assembled crowd how good a job DeSantis has done demonstrating “energy and engagement” with the people.
Miami-Dade PD spokesman Det. Argemis Colome explained to the Times then—falsely as this report reveals—that it was a “media only” event and that the “governor’s team called over” to remove Kennedy from the Port meeting on that basis, even though he is an active podcaster.
But the department’s real reason for detaining him was a law enforcement recommendation, which it appears is based on his political speech being problematic for the Governor.
As an immigration rights activist, Kennedy is best known as a progressive grassroots organizer who has published numerous short videos of his frank encounters with politicians. His resume includes multiple confrontational visits to press conferences held by Governor DeSantis over the past two years. Last summer, he called for the Governor’s resignation over his handling of Covid19 at a press conference, and the video went viral.
Barely 24 hours after the trespass warning, I filed an anonymous request for the police report and all other records related to Kennedy. Twenty-four days later, the Miami-Dade Police have only released the three-page incident report (embedded below) but denied or delayed producing further records, including the police radio chatter and intelligence information logs.
Miami-Dade police officer A. Herrera appeared in Kennedy’s contemporaneous video of the incident and is listed as the reporting officer. He wrote that it was a Lieutenant who spotted the Democrat in the parking lot based on the FDLE’s tip, leading to his investigatory detention and expulsion from the Port. The report says:
ON WEDNESDAY APRIL 7TH, 2021 SGT VALDES ATTENDED A MEETING WITH FDLE SPECIAL AGENT ALEJANDRO OLIVA REFERENCE GOVERNOR DESANTIS CONDUCTING A NEWS CONFERENCE AT PORT MIAMI. SGT VALDES WAS GIVEN INFORMATION REGARDING MR. KENNEDY BEING A KNOWN AGITATOR WITH A HISTORY OF DISRUPTING VARIOUS EVENTS INVOLVING THE GOVERNOR. THE INFORMATION INCLUDED MR. KENNEDY’S PHYSICAL INFORMATION AND LISTED VEHICLE DESCRIPTION.” MR. KENNEDY WAS IDENTIFIED BY HIS DRIVER’S LICENSE AND WHEN ASKED ABOUT HIS BUSINESS AT PORT MIAMI, HE STATED HE WAS ATTENDING THE GOVERNOR’S EVENT. MR. KENNEDY WAS THEN ADVISED THAT IT WAS A PRIVATE EVENT BY INVITATION ONLY AND HE WAS NOT ON THE LIST PROVIDED TO US BY THE GOVERNOR’S OFFICE. HE WAS ASKED TO LEAVE THE PREMISES AND WHEN HE REFUSED AND CHALLENGED OUR ORDERS, HE WAS ADVISED THAT A TRESPASS WARNING HAD BEEN ISSUED FOR HIS REFUSAL TO COMPLY.
Tomas Kennedy vehemently disputed the department’s characterization of him as refusing to leave when asked and said that the officer had merely asked him for identification which he provided then told him to wait.
“It’s disturbing to see the Miami Dade police force being used as the personal political arm of Governor Ron DeSantis, but it tracks with his behavior as an authoritarian,” the immigration reform activist told me via text message. “As a Floridian and constituent of the governor, I believe I should have access to the people who represent me and make decisions that affect my life.”
“To know I’m being targeted for my political opinions,” says Kennedy, “is not acceptable.”
The Miami-Dade Police Department’s slow response to my records request raises the specter of a cover-up and includes the rather dubious claim that they did not have or possibly destroyed some of the information requested (exhibited below), even though my request for records was submitted in writing less than 24 hours after the incident. They wrote:
“Please be advised, Miami-Dade Police Department does not hold records such as emails, texts, and voicemails unless they were pertinent to the case mentioned and made part of the case file.”
Public agencies in Florida are required to retain records for 30 days after they are requested in writing, according to the state’s Public Records Act. Police departments are subject to that requirement, though the state’s document retention and destruction schedule vaguely say they have the ability to delete records when they become “obsolete, superseded or administrative value is lost.” Still, it strains credulity to believe that a county law enforcement agency would receive a visit from the highest law enforcement department in the state, act upon it the following day, and then have absolutely no use for that information barely a day later.
Moreover, Tomas Kennedy’s detention and expulsion from the Port of Miami appear to indicate multiple potential breaches of Florida’s Sunshine Law and Florida Statute (F.S.) 286, known as the Public Meetings Act. An intentional violation by a public official or knowingly and willingly attending a meeting that violates the act is a misdemeanor criminal offense. To be covered under the Sunshine law, a public meeting must be part of the decision-making process for the body.
Video of the event shows that multiple public officials attended the public meeting, including Kevin J. Thibault, Florida’s Secretary of Transportation, the Chairman of Miami-Dade’s County Commission, and a member of Congress. The group’s discussion about public health measures around Covid19 and their ongoing decision-making process hold the CDC accountable as public officials included statements from four of the five known officials who were present.
“I wish we didn’t have to do this. We started working with the Trump administration last summer to get [the industry] back on track. It resulted in that conditional sail order, which was not adequate,” Governor DeSantis told the assembly in a rare criticism of his political patron, revealing that the Attorney General’s lawsuit was part of the government’s broader strategy to manage the state’s economy.
“Then we weren’t able to get it done before the other administration left,” he lamented, “and now we’re trying it with this current [administration].”
Florida’s Sunshine Law assures open government in Florida and requires meetings of “any collegial public body of the executive branch of state government” be open and noticed to the public,” says Florida attorney and litigator David Winker, Esq. “The only exceptions to this constitutional right of access are those meetings that have been exempted by the Legislature and apply to both formal and or informal gatherings.”
“It would not appear that the Governor’s Cabinet Meeting on April 8th at the Port of Miami would meet any of the exceptions,” says the attorney.
Winker’s opinion is backed up by the Attorney General’s opinions on public meetings and Moody’s office’s official handbook for open government.
Under Florida’s Sunshine Law, there is a clear definition of what constitutes a public meeting in the state constitution.
“[All] meetings of any collegial public body of the executive branch of state government or of any collegial public body of a county, municipality, school district, or special district, at which official acts are to be taken or at which public business of such body is to be transacted or discussed, shall be open and noticed to the public,” says Article 1, Section 24(b) of the Florida Constitution’s Sunshine Law.
Furthermore, F.S. 286.011(6) says, “All persons subject to subsection (1) are prohibited from holding meetings at any facility or location… which operates in such a manner as to unreasonably restrict public access to such a facility.”
Nowhere does the law say that someone may be restricted from attending a public meeting because their views conflict with the Governor.
The Florida Attorney General’s website has a helpful FAQ on Open Government which thoughtfully explains:
What qualifies as a meeting?
The Sunshine law applies to all discussions or deliberations as well as the formal action taken by a board or commission. The law, in essence, is applicable to any gathering, whether formal or casual, of two or more members of the same board or commission to discuss some matter on which foreseeable action will be taken by the public board or commission. There is no requirement that a quorum be present for a meeting to be covered under the law.
Each year, the Florida Attorney General’s office also publishes its Government-in-the-Sunshine Manual explaining all known facets of the state’s open government laws. Page 25 says:
The Sunshine Law is, therefore, applicable to all functions of covered boards and commissions, whether formal or informal, which relate to the affairs and duties of the board or commission. “[T]he Sunshine Law does not provide that cases be treated differently based upon their level of public importance.” Monroe County v. Pigeon Key Historical Park, Inc., 647 So. 2d 857, 868 (Fla. 3d DCA 1994). See, e.g., Inf. Op. to Nelson, May 19, 1980 (meeting with congressman and city council members to discuss “federal budgetary matters which vitally concern their communities” should be held in the sunshine because “it appears extremely likely that discussion of public business by the council members [and perhaps decision making] will take place at the meeting”).
The Governor disagrees.
“This is very straightforward,” said the Governor’s official Communications Director Taryn Fenske. “It is standard for FDLE to coordinate security with local law enforcement for every single event we do. It was not a ‘public meeting,’ it was a press conference – for members of the press to attend.”
Florida’s Cabinet is an unusual body where multiple, independently elected statewide officials share power. In 2014, Florida Governor Rick Scott (R) was sued by the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors and the Associated Press for violating the state’s Sunshine Law by firing the head of the FDLE without a meeting. Scott and the Cabinet settled that case with an agreement to adhere to a series of reforms and pay attorneys fees to the plaintiffs. The last time Governor DeSantis tried to have a public meeting where the general public and news agencies had limited access, a ceremonial Cabinet meeting in Israel, every major newspaper in the state filed suit.
Here is the police report:
This is the Miami-Dade Police Department’s response to our request for records:
Grant Stern is the Executive Editor of Occupy Democrats and published author. His new Meet the Candidates 2020 book series is distributed by Simon and Schuster. He's also mortgage broker, community activist and radio personality in Miami, Florida., as well as the producer of the Dworkin Report podcast. Grant is also an occasional contributor to Raw Story, Alternet, and the DC Report, and an unpaid senior advisor to the Democratic Coalition.