Florida Man Arrested While Protesting Red Light Cameras
pasa47 via Flickr creative commons
A Central Florida man named Mark Schmidter is being celebrated among libertarians after he was arrested September 14 while protesting red light cameras at an intersection in Apopka.
According to a police report Schmidter posted online, officer Robert Campbell saw him in the intersection. The officer claims Schmidter was walking in the roadway and approaching cars. The cop initially thought he was panhandling and told him to stay out of the road. When the officer passed by again later, he again saw Schmidter in the road and stopped. As the cop approached, he saw that Schmidter's shirt read "BAN CAMS."
The officer wasn't then aware of Schmidter's digging-in-heels past fighting authorities.
The officer wrote, "I asked the male for his identification card and he told me he did not have one on him. I then asked him for his name and date of birth, in which he responded what right did I have to ask him for it. I told him I was stopping him for a pedestrian violation and asked him again for his name and date of birth. He refused to give me his name, saying I did not have the right to, and for me to show him the pedestrian law that he violated. I tried to explain to him that I did not need to show him proof for the stop prior to identifying him. He continued arguing about the stop, so I asked him if he had a permit to protest the red light cameras, and he said no. I told him it was also against City Ordinance to protest without a permit. I told him if he refused to identify himself to me, I will place him under arrest for obstruction/resisting, however the male still refused to provide his name."
The cop tried to put Schmidter in cuffs, but he allegedly pulled his hands away, resulting in a charge of resisting arrest.
Then a friend of Schmidter's came out of a restaurant to stand up for Schmidter, and "other protesters across the street began heckling me for making a bad arrest," the officer wrote.
At the police station, Schmidter again refused to give his name and asked for legal counsel. The officer told him: "I was not asking him incriminating information, which did not constitute the need for counsel. I told him that by law, he is obligated to identify himself during a police investigation. He asked me to show him this law and I told him I am not required to show him the law."
He was charged with Florida Statue 316.2045 - Obstruction of public streets, highways, and roads.
Schimter later wrote on Facebook: "When I was arrested 9/14/13, I spent 11 hours in jail, my bond was $500. Charge was 'Resisting Arrest Without Violence' Florida Statute 843.20. But I wasn't being arrested for anything! And a mail in Traffic Citation "Obstructing and Hindering in a traffic highway FS 316.2045."
Schmidter had been passing out info promoting banthecams.org, which argues that "red light cameras increase death and injury" as people brake hard to avoid tickets. It claims that red light cameras in Florida generate $250 million in 70 jurisdictions and that authorities shortened the length of yellow lights at intersections by 1.5 seconds so more people would be caught and the cams become more profitable. When Georgia mandated an extra second for yellow lights, cameras there became unprofitable, the group alleges.
But this isn't Schmidter's first brush with authorities. He became known during the Casey Anthony trial, when, as the Orlando Weekly explained:
he was involved with "the Fully Informed Jury Association," a group that believes in the concept of "jury nullification," or the right of jurors to make their decisions based on whether they believe in a law or not, and not just whether the defendant actually violated the law. Chief Judge Belvin Perry was not amused by the notion and effectively banned protestors from interacting with jurors outside the court, except in "free speech zones." But Schmidter supported the idea so much that he found himself arrested and sentenced to 141 days in the summer of 2011 for handing out pamphlets to jurors explaining jury nullification.
Schmidter served the time and appealed (and racked up a contempt-of-court charge along the way), arguing that charges of jury tampering should not have applied, since he wasn't trying to influence a specific jury but rather was exercising his freedom of speech.
A spokesperson at Sudbury Law in Orlando said they once represented him but couldn't immediately comment.
Schmidter did not return a request for comment Wednesday.
Kim Walsh, a public information officer with the Apopka Police, said, "His perception of what happened and his viewpoint is probably very different than what's in the charging affidavit... There's two sides to every story. You cannot be walking around in traffic."
Schmidter has fans and solicits donations for his legal defense on a Facebook page called We Are Mark Schmidter.
Get the Weekly Newsletter
Our weekly feature stories, movie reviews, calendar picks and more - minus the newsprint and sent directly to your inbox.