The Omler Letter.

A letter to the editor from Satellite Beach resident David Omler appeared in the Florida Today newspaper on August 4, 2012. Given the discussions we have had concerning signs, free speech and political speech we have had here on Raised on Hoecakes, we believe the letter is quite relevant.

First, the letter:

Beware, good citizens of Satellite Beach, there are evil things lurking in the night willing to steal your First Amendment Right to free speech.

The following was reported to the Satellite Beach Police Department. In the early morning hours last Friday, there was the theft of a sign from my front yard reading “Recall Sheryl Denan.” I have no proof of anyone who may have done this.

This all appears to be another attempt to silence those who oppose this city council. Such as our longtime City manager retiring (resigning) after being told his job performance review would be based on his ability to silence those who oppose this council.

And then we had Councilwoman Denan wanting to move public comments to the end of meetings based on her “maternal instincts” to protect the other member of the Council.

This past election caused a schism within the city, and their actions have only widened it.

David Omler
Satellite Beach

We had been contacted by Mr. Omler in regards to the theft of his signs prior to the publishing of the letter to the editor. His plight led to our post “Stifling Speech Through Theft” of July 28, 2012.

As citizens, we should all decry the theft of a person’s belongings that are on private property. We would hope we can call agree on that. No matter how much we disagree with someone’s sign, it is un-American to steal it to stifle the exchange of ideas. The thief who stole Mr. Omler’s sign only proved that they were unable to counter his point. That is all there is to it.

We neither agree nor disagree with Mr. Omler’s idea of impeaching Scott Rhodes or initiating a recall effort for Sheryl Denan. To be honest with you, we haven’t given it that much thought. But even if we opposed his efforts, we would not want the discussion to take place. We would not want to deprive the discourse of his ideas by stealing a sign from his private property.

It’s wrong.

Morally and legally, stealing signs with which one disagrees is wrong. If there is nothing else that we can agree on as a community, it should be that.

However, there is another, far reaching event that took place in the city concerning “signs” in general, an “IMPEACH SCOTT RHODES” sign in particular, Mr. Omler, and another citizen, Mr, William Speigelhalter.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We want to make clear that the names and events we are about to discuss are all in the public record. We are not breaking the trust of anyone that contacts us or wishes to remain anonymous.

On Friday, July 13, 2012, Councilwoman Sheryl Denan emailed Satellite Beach Police Chief Jeff Pearson concerning a “possible trespass” on the grounds of DeLaura Middle School. As “proof” of the incident, Denan sent a copy of a picture of a sign reading “IMPEACH RHODES” in a planting area on school grounds.

Six days later, the complaint was assigned to Sergeant Frost of the Satellite Beach Police Department. We haven’t asked, but we suspect the delay in assigning someone to this was that Chief Pearson knew the Council meeting of July 18, 2012 had as an agenda item “political signs” in general. That agenda item was in response to a query which had been made by Councilwoman Denan to Interim City Manager Ayn Samuelson on July 11, 2012 specifically referencing the “IMPEACH RHODES” signs. In addition, the delay gave Chief Pearson some time to informally speak with other department heads such as John Stone, head of the Code Enforcement Department.

(We want to be clear that we are not ascribing any nefarious motives to the Chief of Police or Code Enforcement. In a small town such as Satellite Beach, it is often the better course of action to handle things like this through casual conversations.)

In his narrative of the investigation, Sergeant Prost says Chief Pearson told him John Stone had participated in a conversation with city resident Bill Speigelhalter concerning the signs as Speigelhalter himself had one of the signs on his front lawn.

Sergeant Prost spoke to John Stone who said he hadn’t seen similar signs anywhere other than on Speigelhalter’s lawn.

We now know there was at least one other person displaying the sign during this time period – David Omler.

Sergeant Prost spoke with DeLaura Principal Claudia Shirley, who basically said she wished to keep the school grounds a-political. She also wished to speak with the Public Safety Officer for Brevard County Schools, Andrea Alford. Sergeant Prost also spoke with Ms. Alford on Monday, July 23. Both Ms. Alford and Principal Shirley indicated they only wished a verbal warning of trespassing to be issued if the person who had placed the sign was found.

We want to note Alford’s and Shirley’s wishes on the trespassing as their statement recorded in Sergeant Frost’s report somewhat contradicts Councilwoman Denan’s statement during the Council meeting of August 1, 2012 in which she said she had spoken to Chief Pearson who told her that anyone who trespassed on school grounds would be arrested.

In most cases, trespassing warnings and arrests for trespassing require a complaint from the owner of the property or the person in control of the property. School grounds do not require such a complaint to be made and the police may arrest someone on school grounds for trespassing even absent a complaint. Florida Statute 810.097(4) says:

(4) Any law enforcement officer may arrest either on or off the premises and without warrant any person the officer has probable cause for believing has committed the offense of trespass upon the grounds of a school facility. Such arrest shall not render the law enforcement officer criminally or civilly liable for false arrest, false imprisonment, or unlawful detention.

It is impossible for us to determine the context of Denan’s conversation with Chief Pearson. He could have meant anyone placing signs in the future on school grounds would be arrested even if there was no complaint from the school. He could have meant he was going to disregard the school’s request not to arrest the person who placed the sign at DeLaura.

It does seem to us, however, Denan’s statement contradicts the school’s wishes on how this incident should be handled.

We find that “curious,” to say the least.

The investigation of the trespassing then takes a left turn into the absurd. Sergeant Frost visited Bill Speigelhalter on Tuesday, July 24, 2012 to ask him about the trespassing incident. While we can see the reason for Officer Frost taking the investigation in this direction, the connection between Speigelhalter and the alleged trespass is tenuous at best. Remember, the only connection between Speigelhalter and the alleged trespass is Speigelhalter has a sign that says “IMPEACH SCOTT RHODES.”

Sergeant Frost asks Mr. Speigelhalter for names of other people who may have similar signs. Speigelhalter declines which, given his background in the Citizens On Patrol program here in Satellite Beach, he probably answers with a great deal more civility than we would have. Our response would have been “are you really asking for names of people that have a legal item advocating a certain position in regards to elected officials?” Sergeant Frost’s report says Mr. Speigelhalter signed a statement denying involvement in the trespassing incident.

(Oh great. We now have to have sworn statements to the police saying a citizen didn’t do something? We realize this may be standard procedure, we object to a citizen being asked to swear they are innocent of any crime.)

Eventually, Sergeant Frost runs the investigative string out and after speaking again to DeLaura Principal Shirley, closes the investigation on July 27, 2012.

The date is ironic as that is the very day Mr. Omler was reporting his signs as being stolen to the police.

Not surprisingly, there is another twist to this tale of stolen signs and trespasses.

During the City Council meeting of August 1, 2012, after Denan’s comment on the arrest of trespassers on school grounds, Vice Mayor Rhodes made a very curious comment given the context of the discussion. Rhodes said:

“People who think we are against free speech or can take some sort of action against those who speak out are just wrong. Council members do not have any special authority to target people.”

We want to examine that statement in detail.

First, Denan’s email to Chief Pearson which instigated the investigation was on her city account – not a personnel account. While we would not claim a “regular” citizen does not have the right to communicate with the Chief of Police, in this case, her communication was not from a concerned, private citizen. It was from an elected official of the City government.

We repeat, this investigation started because of a complaint from a member of the City Council and and a member of the city government – not a private citizen.

Eventually, a Satellite Beach police officer ends up in the home of a citizen who has done nothing, but is being questioned concerning an incident which could result in a $500 fine and up to 60 days in jail. (See Florida Statute 810.097 and accompanying penalty as given in 775.083 and 775.082.)

The path to Mr. Speigelhalter’s living room went through the City government, specifically Code Enforcement head John Stone who said the only person he was aware who had a “IMPEACH RHODES” sign similar to the one in the photograph was Speigelhalter.

While there is no reason to doubt Stone’s knowledge in what he saw, he was not speaking for the entire City government as a whole was aware of at least one other person who had an “IMPEACH RHODES” as well as a “RECALL SHERYL DENAN” sign sitting on his lawn.

The other person with the signs on his lawn is the writer of the letter to the editor, David Omler.

The City government knew this because the day before Sergeant Frost started his official investigation, Councilwoman Denan was seen taking multiple picture of the signs on Omler’s property. We may have stated that badly, so let us say it this way: on July 18, 2012 Councilwoman Denan was taking pictures of private property which displayed a sign similar to the sign which was allegedly placed at DeLaura. The official investigation into the trespass, according to Sergeant Frost’s report, began on July 19, 2012.

Most importantly, the investigation began without the information Councilwoman Denan had in her possession that showed conclusively there were other people displaying similar signs.

We cannot and do not fault Chief Pearson, Sergeant Frost, or John Stone for this. They can only go on what they have.

(Interestingly, what they don’t seem to have is the sign from DeLaura itself. We have no idea where that went and the report doesn’t mention it. This is important because there are some who believe the picture given to the police was Photoshopped. From the image contained in the copy of the report we have, we cannot make a determination on that aspect of this.)

Yet when a member of the City government who has a contentious relationship with both Mr. Speigelhalter and Mr. Omler withholds evidence that would have shown Mr. Speigelhalter was not the only resident with similar signs, we have to question the actions of that individual.

Most importantly, we question the veracity of the idea that Council Members cannot initiate actions against those who have spoken out against them. Sergeant Frost sitting in the home of Mr. Speigelhalter destroys that myth.

(And people wonder why we wish to remain anonymous here at Raised on Hoecakes.)

Some people may think we are overreaching here and perhaps we are. We only know how we would react in a similar set of circumstances. For example, if someone allegedly broke the law in regards to a friend of ours and we reported it to the police, we would keep on the look out and report any information to the police that may aid in their investigation.

We therefore cannot understand or explain Denan’s report to the police and then not reporting similar signs in the area such as those she photographed on Olmer’s property.

The battle over these signs will continue on many fronts. What distresses us is that there are people who are willing to use their position to retaliate against those who oppose them politically. There is still a belief in this city that free speech, especially free political speech, should be regulated, or outlawed.

It is something that all citizens should be concerned with.

Report from Satellite Beach Police Department on the trespass investigation:

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