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(21 February 98)
Roadblock Injunction in National Forests of Florida
On Friday, 13 Feb.98 three individual Plaintiffs filed suit pro se against the U.S. Forest Service, the Sheriff of Marion County, and the Sheriff of Lake County, to stop police roadblocks targeted on a public gathering just underway in Ocala National Forest (FL), and to redress harms from roadblocks on a prior gathering in February 1997.
This civil action (#98-137-Civ-J-20C) was brought to the Federal District Court (Jacksonville) with an Emergency Motion for Temporary Restraining Order seeking immediate ex parte relief from ongoing civil liberties violations.
The Judge converted this Motion and set a Hearing for Preliminary Injunction on 20 Feb.98 at 3 PM, where all parties could be present.
The attorney for the two Defendant Sheriff Departments came to court with a Motion for Continuance including a stipulation that those agencies had no plans to participate in further roadblock actions through the end of the gathering; the Judge called for explicit confirmation by both agencies, and approved this in the record. The Forest Service refused to join with the other Defendants in this agreement, and the hearing proceeded.
The Plaintiffs testified on the harms and chilling effects of such roadblocks and related enforcement tactics upon public assemblies, and upon their personal exercise of First Amendment rights. They claimed that by deploying roadblocks at places where on ly gathering participants would likely travel, and by intrusive stops and seizures, the Defendants were acting in violation of Fourth Amendment protections. They further spoke of the history of intensive police actions against Rainbow gatherings and similar public events -- especially in Florida -- and the war of attrition being waged against participants, under color of law and policy.
The U.S. Attorney argued for the governments authority to establish Check Points in the National Forests, and defended the propriety of its officers in such enforcement actions. The Judge asked for specific USDA authorities and guidelines for conducting such operations, and none were brought forward.
A USFS Officer was called as a witness, portraying the conduct of roadblocks on February 13-14 as legal and within guidelines for USFS (Southern) Region 8. An Attorney appearing for one of the Plaintiffs cross-examined: It was determined that USFS ro adblocks around this gathering were planned for Feb. 6, 7, 13, 14, 19, 20, and 21... and that decisions to establish them were made by USFS Law Enforcement and Investigations officials, apart from considerations or authorities of line Rangers of the District.
At about 6:10 PM on Friday 2/20/98, Judge Schlesinger of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida entered the following ORDER, read into the Hearing Record:
>> 1. The Court grants a preliminary injunction enjoining the Defendant >>United States Forest Service statewide from establishing or participating >>in roadblock safety checks, except to insure that the possession or >>operation of a motor vehicle on a Forest R oad is not in violation of the laws of the United States or the State of Florida, and are conducted in conformance with current Department of Agriculture rules and guidelines.
>> 2. The Department of Agriculture shall be enjoined from making any motor >>vehicle stop or search for criminal purposes without individualized >>exigent circumstances, or other proper and articulable suspicion or >>probable cause.
Accurately & Respectfully Reported...
- SCA (21fe98)