Activist Group Claims it Was Made to Leave Sims Park
The founder of the American Youth Movement 22211 says the group's rights were violated.
Members of the American Youth Movement 22211 went to a benefit concert in Sims Park in May with protest signs decrying corruption of police, government and corporations.
After several hours, the concert’s organizer, standing with New Port Richey police officers, asked the group to leave the city park, which was rented out for the event.
The New Port Richey Police Department is conducting an internal investigation into the incident after receiving a complaint from a Pasco County resident who wrote to the City Council and is requesting public records about the incident from the police department.
Police Chief Jeffrey Harrington said he has watched videos that a member of American Youth Movement took, and his preliminary opinion is that the police did not eject the group from the park. However, the investigation continues, he said.
"The videos that I have seen ... my interpretation is they were asked to leave by someone other than police," Harrington said to Patch.
Zachary Mitrovich, the group’s founder, says the group was invited to the concert and its rights were violated when it was told to leave.
“Who created the idea that you could make a public park private?” Mitrovich said to Patch.
Sean Kline, the event’s organizer, says that if he knew that the group’s intent, he would never have welcomed them. As the person who rented the park, he had the right to eject them, he said.
“There’s really no legal ramifications,” he said.
Daniel Callaghan, a 69-year-old Marine veteran living at 7108 Daggett Terrace outside incorporated New Port Richey, has asked the city to investigate the incident and “allow me and others to speak before the upcoming City Council regarding the treatment of these young people whose right to dissent, to assemble and conduct themselves peacefully on public property were abrogated.”
He further wrote: "I ask that the city attorney clarify Mr. Kline’s contention that the corporate sponsors of the Gaertner event could somehow change Sims Park from public to private property.”
The 12-hour Rock the Park concert held in Sims Park on May 21 was planned as a fundraiser for the Center for Independence and Lance Cpl. Justin Gaertner, a Marine whose legs were destroyed by an explosion in Afghanistan. The center is a Hudson-based nonprofit that serves individuals with developmental disabilities. Kline is an ambassador for the West Pasco Chamber of Commerce, but the chamber did not sponsor the event.
Kline, outreach coordinator for the center’s New Freedom Transportation Program, said he met Mitrovich, a Port Richey resident and part-time Pasco-Hernando Community College student, days before the event.
Kline was heading to Sims Park when Mitrovich was aiding an effort to clean the exterior of the shuttered Hacienda Hotel on Main Street in New Port Richey. The two talked. Kline said Mitrovich told him that the group was about getting kids involved in the community.
Mitrovich founded the American Youth Movement after he was arrested by Pasco County Sheriff’s deputies in January, booked into jail and taken to court, where the judge withheld adjudication. His group’s protests focus on government, police and corporate corruption.
There was no mention of American Youth Movement protesting or being "anti-anything" when he met Mitrovich, Kline said.
The day before the concert, Kline again met Mitrovich as he was unloading chairs at Sims Park.
“He was discussing the same thing, nothing negative, no anti-government sentiment or corporate persecution,” Kline wrote in an e-mail.
Kline said he invited the group to the concert and offered them a free table.
They came with signs reading “Corporate ran America is not the will of the people" and "Don't let crooked cops, corrupt politicians and Corporations take your rights away," the group said in a statement to the St. Petersburg Times posted on its Facebook fan page.
"Various vendors and event-goers complained to the point that New Port Richey Police Dept came to the event to address the situation,"
Kline wrote in an e-mail. He said vendors told him that, among other things, Mitrovich and his group had been seen marching behind Gaertner with signs and faces masked by bandanas, Mitrovich’s resembling the U.S. flag, while Gaertner was interviewed on camera by Bay News 9.
“That, to me, was completely inappropriate,” he said in an interview.
An AYM member had a camera that captured the moment when Kline and police walk up to Mitrovich’s group. The recording shows Kline telling the group:
“I’m getting complaints. The police are here. It‘s over, and that’s that."
The camera lens was then obscured, but the device records Mitrovich saying: “OK, we’ll leave.”
The police are heard saying: “Zachary, don’t argue.”
“I’m not arguing,” Mitrovich responds. ”I’m just saying we didn’t defile anybody. We didn’t curse at anybody. We just held up our signs and walked around.”
One of the police officers says: “The guy who owns the park right now is trespassing everybody. So you’re getting a warning, and you’re just going to be asked to leave.”
None of the group members were arrested or cited, the Times reports. Harrington told the Times that an entity that rents the park has a right to put on an event without disruption, and that it did not appear the group's activities amounted to one worthy of being ejected.
Mitrovich said he felt forced to leave.
“The police told me if I came back before the event was over, I would be arrested,” Mitrovch wrote in an e-mail. “So what should I have done? Disagree with the trespass and get arrested?”
Callaghan met Mitrovich and his group members at Sims Park but left before they were told to leave. He joined an American Youth Movement protest, and they joined him in one against U.S. wars that he has held with others at U.S. 19 and Ridge Road every Friday for about five years. He said he has gotten responses to his letter from four council members as of Friday and wanted to get the records requested from police by July 20.
Freelancer John Haughey contributed to this report.
*This story was last modified at 8:55 p.m., July 24