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Activist Ben Frazier threatens to sue DeSantis and the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office over arrest

 Ben Frazier, seated next to his lawyer John Phillips and flanked by supporters, announces a potential lawsuit against Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office.
Raymon Troncoso
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WJCT News
Ben Frazier, seated next to his lawyer John Phillips and flanked by supporters, announces a potential lawsuit against Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office.

He faces a misdemeanor trespassing charge after he entered DeSantis' COVID-19 press conference in Jacksonville last week without media credentials.

Jacksonville activist Ben Frazier is threatening to sue Gov. Ron DeSantis in federal and state court if a trespassing charge stemming from his high-profile arrest last week isn't dropped.

Frazier made the announcement Monday with his attorney, John Phillips, at Phillips' law office. Frazier faces a misdemeanor trespassing charge after he entered the governor's COVID-19 press conference in Jacksonville last week without media credentials.

A dozen other demonstrators also entered the room and refused to leave, but Frazier was the only one arrested.

Phillips said that when Frazier, who is disabled, was removed from his motorized scooter and made to walk out of the building without it, the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office violated its own policy as well as the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

"Based upon the content of his message, he was arrested," Phillips said. "There was no threats, there was no crimes, there was no intent to commit a threat or a crime. Instead of just allowing Ben to speak or even moving the meeting to a different room, they chose to single out Ben Frazier, arrest him and take him off of his scooter."

 DeSantis' team forcibly removed about a dozen community members from the Department of Health room where the governor was going to hold a press conference.
Claire Heddles
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WJCT News
DeSantis' team forcibly removed about a dozen community members from the Department of Health room where the governor was going to hold a press conference.

The pair played a video of DeSantis supporting a NASCAR racer's efforts to display "Let's Go Brandon" — a coded insult toward President Joe Biden — on sponsored gear. They accused the governor of being inconsistent on free speech.

"That is rank hypocrisy in the eyes and ears of anybody who chooses to be the judge," Frazier said. "The governor is saying that he is for people speaking their mind. That is a lie."

Frazier is requesting a face-to-face sitdown with DeSantis to discuss issues like affordable housing and the COVID-19 pandemic.

The governor's press secretary, Christina Pushaw, said last week that Frazier "has the right to protest in public places — but not to trespass in a secured facility in order to disrupt a press briefing."

On Monday, she said she found Frazier's comments irrelevant to the governor's office.

"The governor wasn’t even aware of Mr. Frazier’s trespassing nor his arrest until after it happened, when a reporter asked him about it at the press conference later that morning," Pushaw wrote in an email.

"The governor’s office is not law enforcement, and the governor’s office is not a prosecutor," she wrote. "One would think, after Mr. Frazier’s years of involvement with the criminal justice system, he would understand that. But, like any American citizen, he is free to say what he wants."

Frazier accused DeSantis of "mudslinging" and referenced comments the governor's allies have made about his activism and criminal record, including theft and resisting arrest.

"We want to sit down and have a reasonable straightforward and honest discussion. What does the governor have to lose by having that discussion?" Frazier asked. "They have pulled out the big guns, the Republican state party has made comments. The RNC or National Republican Party is speaking on the issue of one civil rights activist in Jacksonville, Florida. What do they have to fear?"

Pushaw said the governor's staff has not received a request for a sit-down meeting with Frazier.

The Sheriff's Office did not respond to a request for comment.

Frazier is due in court later this month on the misdemeanor charge, for which Phillips also represents him. Jacksonville-area state attorney Melissa Nelson, who's office would normally prosecute the case, asked DeSantis on Thursday to have the case assigned to another state attorney.

"Our office has a relationship with Mr. Frazier," Nelson said. "In order to avoid any appearance of impropriety, we respectfully request that another circuit be assigned to handle this matter."

When asked when the lawsuits would be filed, Phillips did not give a timeline. He said the federal suit could be done at any time depending on the governor's response, while the local lawsuit would require a six-month waiting period due to statutes around suing the state.

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