Broward News

Soup Kitchen Founder Says BSO Officer Tried to Intimidate Him from Protesting

Update: BSO has responded to the allegations, stating that Captain Hubrig was acting as an intermediary between both sides.

For the last decade, All Saints Catholic Mission has fed people who might not be able to afford a meal. This year, though, the City of Oakland Park passed a zoning ordinance that made the food-sharing operation illegal.

For months, Father Bob Caudill, who leads the organization, has defied this law —  even after Broward Sheriff’s deputies issued a cease-and-desist order that fined the church $500 a day until it shut down. Caudill refused and has racked up over $19,000 in legal fees.

Caudill, volunteers, and activists have protested the ordinance, arguing that it unfairly targets people for being homeless and poor. For weeks, activists planned a peaceful protest outside Commissioner John Adornato’s in Hollywood to raise awareness about the issue. Caudill says that Broward Sherif's Office Captain Al Hubrig called Caudill and then drove to his home in uniform urging him to call off the protest.

“It was very bizarre having him show up at my house in uniform,” Caudill says. “I felt pressured and uneasy. I told him I found it inappropriate.”

This morning BSO spokesperson Veda Coleman-Wright could not immediately comment on the allegations. The post has been updated with her statement below. 

According to Caudill, Hubrig called him on Friday: “He said ‘I would prefer if you didn’t protest anymore’.” Caudill says he refused to back down, and subsequently Hubrig and another officer showed up at Caudill’s home (which is located at the church) in uniform Tuesday afternoon. Caudill claims that the officers warned him not to follow through with the protest.

“He was in uniform, but said he wasn’t there under any official capacity,” Caudill says. “It didn’t make any sense.”

Caudill believes that Hubrig was trying to intimidate him to call off the protest. But Caudill won’t. Caudill insists that a peaceful protest on public property outside a public official’s office is within his first amendment right to free speech. Caudill and fellow activists are disappointed that Ardonato supported the ordinances and others that they feel criminalize homelessness, like panhandling and sleeping on bus benches. Besides, Caudill points out, Ardonato’s office is in Hollywood — outside of BSO’s jurisdiction.

“We just want to stand on the sidewalk and tell him that what we do is important and that so many people rely on us,” Caudill says. “He visited the church during his campaign and said he’d help us.”

Broward ACLU attorney Alex Johnson is representing Caudill. Johnson has sent a letter to BSO General Counsel Ron Gunzburger stating that the visit to Caudill’s home “smacks of a prior restraint on First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech, assembly and religion,” and is a constitutional violation. Caudill claims Gunzburger said that Hubrig was advised to not interfere with protests in the future.

This isn’t the first time Caudill and activists have protested outside the home of city officials. Last month they held a vigil outside Oakland Park mayor Jed Shank’s home. It was quiet and respectful. It went very well,” Caudill said at the time. “The mayor came out and wouldn’t talk, but he listened.”

For years, business owners and residents have complained about the people the soup kitchen attracts, saying they loiter and defecate on neighbors' property. In July 2014, the zoning ordinance was changed as part of a new plan for that stretch of Powerline Road promoting high-density construction. It doesn’t explicitly ban soup kitchens but does specifically prohibit “parish houses” — defined as a “room or building associated with a church… for charitable use.”

Caudill estimates that almost 150 people rely on All Saints Soup Kitchen each day. He knows of a few families who are sleeping in their cars. He vows to continue fighting for them. Last November, Fort Lauderdale placed a ban on feeding in public and arrested a 90-year-old man, Arnold Abbot, and two pastors. "Who knows? Maybe one day you'll be speaking to me from jail?" Caudill quips.

In the meantime, the cease-and-desist order’s fines have been put on hold until January 19. Then, the Broward ACLU will represent Caudill and All Saints Soup Kitchen in court to overturn the food-sharing ban. Until then the church is accepting donations to help with the legal battle on an online crowd-funding site

Veda Coleman-Wright tells New Times:
“Captain Al Hubrig has had a cordial and professional relationship with Father Bob Caudill for many years. During this time, both men have discussed various issues and concerns. In the incident you asked about, Captain Hubrig was trying to be the peacekeeper between the involved parties. As for the Broward Sheriff's Office, we support the first amendment and a person’s or group’s right to express its opinion through peaceful protest.”

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Jess Swanson is a staff writer at New Times. Born and raised in Miami, she graduated from the University of Miami’s School of Communication and wrote briefly for the student newspaper until realizing her true calling: pissing off fraternity brothers by reporting about their parties on her crime blog. Especially gifted in jumping rope and solving Rubik’s cubes, she also holds the title for longest stint as an unpaid intern in New Times history. She left the Magic City for New York to earn her master’s degree from Columbia University School of Journalism, where she spent a year profiling circumcised men who were trying to regrow their foreskins for a story that ultimately won the John Horgan Award for Critical Science Journalism. Terrified by pizza rats and arctic temperatures, she quickly returned to her natural habitat.
Contact: Jess Swanson