New Port Richey Police officers did not eject a group of youths who were protesting at a benefit concert at Sims Park in May, according to Police Chief Jeffrey Harrington.
Members of American Youth Movement 22211 were asked to leave by the concert organizer, who had rented the park for his event, as he stood in the company of the police officers, Harrington wrote in a two-page letter describing the result of an internal review of the incident.
After a verbal exchange between the members and the officers, the group left.
“I see no evidence that New Port Richey Police officers ejected anyone from Sims Park,” Harrington wrote in the letter released to the press Wednesday.
Harrington opened an internal investigation in July after receiving a complaint that American Youth Movement’s rights were violated during the concert.
The complaint originated from Daniel Callaghan, a West Pasco resident living just outside the city limits. Callaghan emailed the mayor and city council members asking the city to investigate the matter and for the police chief to disclose all documents related to it. He asked that he be allowed to speak at a council meeting.
Harrington's letter released to press was addressed to Callaghan and dated August 8.
Harrington said in an interview that he reviewed video recorded by the American Youth Movement and spoke to police officers, concert organizer Sean Kline and the city attorney.
“Based on my review of the incident, members of the American Youth Movement were asked to leave based on their conduct and not the content of their speech,” Harrington wrote.
Members of American Youth Movement 22211, an “activist” group founded by part-time Pasco-Hernando Community College student Zachary Mitrovich, went to the concert May 21 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."
American Youth Movement 22211 protests corruption in government, corporations and the police force.
They were invited by Sean Kline, who had rented the park from the city and organized the concert as a benefit for the Center For Independence in Hudson and injured Marine Justin Gaertner of Trinity. If he had known their intent, he would not have invited them, he said last month.
Complaints were made about the group. Police were called. Kline, an employee at the Center for Independence, walked up to the group with police officers and asked the protesters to leave, according to Harrington.
Mitrovich said last month that American Youth Movement was invited to the concert, and its rights to freedom of speech and assembly were violated during the incident.
“The police told me if I came back before the event was over, I would be arrested,” Mitrovich wrote in an email. “So what should I have done? Disagree with the trespass and get arrested?”
In the recording by one of the American Youth Movement members, 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.”
Harrington wrote in his letter that the New Port Richey Police officers did not deliver a trespass warning or enter one into the database. He said in an interview that he did not see any evidence of wrongdoing by police, and the officers weren't disciplined.
Mitrovich responded in an email Thursday.
"We have evidence (the recording) of the officers telling us we are trespassed from the park," Mitrovich wrote. "If the chief cant see the evidence, hes blind."
Callaghan said he was at the park May 21 and met American Youth Movement members before their encounter with the police and Kline. He was not at Sims when the incident happened. He watched the group's YouTube video of the incident, he wrote.
What I saw (in the video) was the American Youth Movement still at the booth where I saw them, being approached by police, then asked to provide ID, then told they were not to argue for their constitutional rights, that somehow Mr. Sean Kline had the "right" to ask them to leave the park, and that by their words and actions, the police were there to make sure the kids left. To argue the kids left the park voluntarily is not at all supported by what the camera recorded.
Harrington wrote in his letter that Kline told him American Youth Movement members were using "vulgar language," covering their faces and being "generally disruptive".
Harrington said he believed Kline acted within the law when he asked American Youth Movement to leave.
According to an email from Callaghan, members “were far from creating any kind of disturbance, nor were they concealing their faces in any way” when he was in the park.
Callaghan has been told by New Port Richey Mayor Bob Consalvo that he or anyone can talk at a vox populi session at a city council meeting. He said the mayor recommended that he ask the City Manager to seek a legal opinion from the city attorney on how a public park can be made private when rented, which was also one of Callaghan's original requests.
"That needs to be done," Callaghan wrote.
He is also offering to mediate a meeting between the parties involved at the convenience of the police chief and mayor or resolve remaining issues via e-mail.
*This article was last updated at 1:39 p.m. August 19. A paragraph was shortened and moved to ensure accuracy. Misspellings were also corrected.