Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Calls for Florida 'anti-riot' law to be used in Delray Beach pride case

By Jay O’Brien, WPEC CBS12

DELRAY BEACH, Fla. (CBS12) — Prosecutors in Palm Beach County are facing calls to charge the man accused of vandalizing a pride intersection in Delray Beach under the state’s new “anti-riot” law.

The Palm Beach County Human Rights Council has requested that the State Attorney’s Office consider charging Alexander Jerich under the state’s controversial Combating Public Disorder law.

The law, strongly opposed by Democrats and championed by Gov. Ron DeSantis and his Republican allies, heightens the penalties for violent acts committed during a protest. But it also has a provision enhancing criminal penalties for people who damage “historic property” or a “memorial.”

Jerich was arrested last week, accused of vandalizing the pride intersection by using his truck to create tire marks across the paint. Police say the incident occurred after Jerich attended a birthday rally for former President Donald Trump.

He's pled not guilty.

The Palm Beach County Human Rights Council believes the pride intersection in Delray Beach meets the legal criteria to be a memorial, thus Jerich should face charges under the new law.

“It seems obvious to me the elements of the crime were met one by one,” said Rand Hoch, president and Founder Palm Beach County Human Rights Council.

Hoch points out that the intersection is a painting, is dedicated to a specific person, and is a permanent display -- all elements of the definition of a “memorial” that the law lays out.

"It shocked me. I mean really this is not something we expected at all,” Hoch added, referring to the alleged vandalism. "He was doing it to make a statement that he thought he could drive all over the LGBTQ community."

"It doesn’t look like a stretch. It really depends on the facts,” West Palm Beach Defense Attorney Ian Goldstein said when asked about the potential for charges under the "anti-riot" law. “Assuming that this was meant to be a permanent display I think there’s a very strong argument to be made that it does meet the threshold."

The public disorder law, often called the “anti-riot” or “anti-protest” law, was a legislative priority of Gov. Ron DeSantis who argued the bill would crack down on violent protests in the state.

Opponents of the law say it will discourage people from protesting at all, negatively impacting First Amendment rights. Civil rights groups, including the NAACP and ACLU, have already sued to block the law in federal court.

The law does not appear to have been used so far in a Palm Beach County case or in any case across the state.

The State Attorney's Office told CBS12 News that “any statutes applicable to the facts of the case would be considered for filing of formal charges” in this case.

Jerich’s lawyer declined a request for comment.

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