SARASOTA, FL. - It may sound like an article you would find in "The Onion," but this is a true story.
A 28-year-old homeless man from Sarasota was charged and arrested Sunday night for using an outlet at Gillespie Park to charge his cellphone.
Sergeant Anthony Frangioni, a 14-year veteran with the Sarasota Police Department arrested Darren Kersey and charged him with Theft of Utilities.
Kersey spent the night in jail since he could not afford the $500 bail, but was released on Monday after a judge threw the case out.
According to a police report, Frangioni approached the gazebo at the park under suspicion that some of the people sitting there were smoking marijuana. He noticed Kersey get up to retrieve his cellphone, which was being charged in one of the outlets. Frangioni explained to Kersey, "the use of outlets are for permitted events through the city." Kersey responded by allegedly saying, "find something better to do." Kersey was then placed under arrest. Frangioni explain to Kersey, "theft of city utilities will not be tolerated during this bad economy."
We could not track down Kersey on Monday, but a friend of his, only identifying himself as, "Joe," said that Kersey was "excited to be out of jail."
"Arresting him for plugging in a cellphone? That's ridiculous," said Joe, who is also homeless. "It's a public park. It's a park where kids are. Kids have cellphones to keep in touch with their parents. What happens if their phone dies? They can plug it in here at the park."
Andrea Mogensen, a Sarasota attorney and a member of the local ACLU chapter also calls Kersey's arrest, "ridiculous."
"It would appear that it was just an effort to send a message to other homeless people, telling them that we don't want you gathering here. This is a chronic message that's coming from the police department to people in poverty in this community," Mogensen said.
In 2006, Sarasota was ranked as the "Meanest City toward the Homeless," by the National Coalition for the Homeless. In 2011, the city removed benches at Five Points Park to discourage the homeless from sleeping there.
Captain Paul Sutton with the Sarasota Police Department told ABC-7 over the phone today that Chief Mikel Holloway will review the details of the case when he returns to the office from the holiday.
UPDATE: The case has been thrown out by a judge.