[Ohio-talk] Discrimination Continues

Shelbi Hindel shelbiah1 at gmail.com
Sun Feb 21 12:52:29 UTC 2016


Please circulate the following message as widely as appropriate.
 
Sheriff's Office/State of Florida Condone Discrimination against Disabled
 
                On February 11, 2016, in a stunning blow to the rights of
the disabled, the State Attorney for the 13thJudicial Circuit in Tampa,
Florida released a two sentence statement in response to a criminal
complaint filed with their office as the result of a clear and unequivocal
denial of the rights of a person with a disability accompanied by a service
dog that condones discrimination against the disabled. This two sentence
statement, released by Mark Cox, Chief of Investigations for the state
Attorney, stated.
 
Please See entire article below or:


or Please read the entire article by visiting
 http://www.harnessup.wordpress.com
 


Sheriff
<https://harnessup.wordpress.com/2016/02/17/sheriffs-officestate-of-florida-
condone-discrimination-against-disabled/> 's Office/State of Florida Condone
Discrimination against Disabled

Posted on
<https://harnessup.wordpress.com/2016/02/17/sheriffs-officestate-of-florida-
condone-discrimination-against-disabled/> February 17, 2016 by harnessup
<https://harnessup.wordpress.com/author/harnessup/> 

 

Sheriff's Office/State of Florida Condones Discrimination against Disabled

By Marion Gwizdala

 

On February 11, 2016, in a stunning blow to the rights of the disabled, the
State Attorney for the 13th Judicial Circuit in Tampa, Florida released a
two sentence statement in response to a criminal complaint filed with their
office as the result of a clear and unequivocal denial of the rights of a
person with a disability accompanied by a service dog that condones
discrimination against the disabled. This two sentence statement, released
by Mark Cox, Chief of Investigations for the state Attorney, stated, "This
case has been reviewed by numerous prosecutors.  They all agree that there
is no likelihood of a successful prosecution." Just as Jim Crow laws of the
20th century mandated segregation of the black community through the
principle of separate but equal, the state of Florida is promoting an even
more offensive policy of unequal but equal. How a team of the brightest
minds in the legal field can come to such an arbitrary inference by drawing
a conclusion without or in spite of the evidence is summed up by the
repeated statement Douglas Covington, Chief of the Misdemeanor Division made
to me: "You are not an attorney!" Mr. Covington had obviously arrived at a
foregone conclusion based upon unfounded claims and no factual evidence
would be allowed. Read on and see if you arrive at the same arbitrary
inference as those whose job it is to prosecute those who violate the law.

 

Florida law states, "An individual with a disability is entitled to full and
equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, and privileges in all public
accommodations. A public accommodation must modify its policies, practices,
and procedures to permit use of a service animal by an individual with a
disability." (413.08(2) This statute also asserts that "Allergies and fear
of animals are not valid reasons for denying access or refusing service to
an individual with a service animal." (413.08(3)(f) Lastly, the statute
prescribes that, "Any person, firm, or corporation, or the agent of any
person, firm, or corporation, who denies or interferes with admittance to,
or enjoyment of, a public accommodation or otherwise interferes with the
rights of an individual with a disability.commits a misdemeanor of the
second degree". (413.08(4) The entire text of this statute can be viewed by
visiting the official website for the state of Florida
<http://www.leg.state.fl.us/statutes/index.cfm?App_mode=Display_Statute
<http://www.leg.state.fl.us/statutes/index.cfm?App_mode=Display_Statute&Sear
ch_String=&URL=0400-0499/0413/Sections/0413.08.html&gt>
&Search_String=&URL=0400-0499/0413/Sections/0413.08.html>

 

On Monday, November 16, 2015, I scheduled a trip with the Hillsborough Area
Regional Transit (HART) para transit service for Wednesday, November 18 from
my residence to attend a professional grant writing conference. My scheduled
pick-up was 7:30 a.m. with a return trip scheduled for 4:30 p.m. The
conference I was to attend began at 8:20 a.m. and concluded at 4:00 p.m.

When the vehicle - a Chrysler minivan - arrived at approximately 7:10 a.m.,
I approached the vehicle accompanied by my guide dog. As I reached for the
door handle, the driver ordered me to not open the door. When I inquired as
to the reason I could not open the door, I was told there were two other
people on the van. When I asked why this mattered, I was told there was not
enough room for both me and my guide dog. I waited for a few minutes while
the operator spoke with the Dispatcher. After several minutes, the driver
exited the vehicle, approached me, and told me one of the other passengers
was afraid of dogs and I could not ride on the vehicle. He told me the
dispatcher had advised him to leave to drop off the other passengers and
then return for me. I told him this was a violation of state and federal law
and was advised he was following the orders of the dispatcher.

 

I called HART's customer service and spoke with Kathy who put me on hold
while she called the dispatcher. When she returned, she also advised me the
dispatcher told her there was a passenger who was afraid of dogs and he had
ordered the driver to leave, drop off the other passengers, and return for
me once they had been dropped off. I also advised Kathy this was a violation
of state and federal law and that fear of animals was not a valid reason to
deny my ride. The communication between the dispatcher and the operator are
recorded by HART, as is the telephone conversation between the customer
service representative and me. The vehicle left my residence without
transporting me.

 

At approximately 8:40 a.m. (1-1/2 hours later), the vehicle returned to pick
me up. I advised the operator that I was recording our conversation and
asked for his name and the name of the dispatcher. The operator did not
object to the recording but refused to give me this information. As I
attempted to pay for my ride, the operator told me there was no charge. I
insisted on paying for the trip and the driver refused to accept my fare. I
dropped the $4.00 fare on the floor next to the driver. I arrived at my
destination at approximately 9:10 a.m. and to the conference registration
table at approximately 9:15 a.m., nearly one hour late for the conference.

 

As I was leaving the conference at approximately 4:15 p.m., I was met by
Gregory Brackin, HART's ADA officer. Mr. Brackin apologized for the
incident, stated there was more than adequate room for me and my guide dog
on the vehicle, and handed me more than $200 worth of bus passes and coupons
which I subsequently returned. I also received a telephone call from Kathryn
Eagan, HART's Chief Executive Officer, expressing her apologies and stating
this incident should have never occurred. Though some may say HART
apologized for the incident and question my motivation for pursuing criminal
charges against those involved, it is important to note that there have been
several instances of HART drivers interfering with the rights of a disabled
person accompanied by a service dog in the past and each time we have met
with insincere apologies, as supported by the absence of a real resolution
and evidenced by this recurrent issue. Even in this instance, when HART was
asked in writing what steps they would take to ensure such an incident would
not occur in the future, HART did not respond.

 

When I returned home, I contacted the Hillsborough county Sheriff's Office
to file a criminal complaint against HART and was told there was nothing the
sheriff's office could do for me since this was a civil matter. I advised
the person I was speaking with that it was a criminal violation and was
transferred to a supervising deputy. This deputy also asserted there was
nothing that could be done, in spite of the fact I cited and quoted the
statute. He then transferred me to a sergeant who reiterated the same
uninformed response. I asked to speak with the Watch Commander and was
connected to Lt. Donald Morris. Lt. Morris also advised me that the
violation was a civil matter outside the jurisdiction of the sheriff's
office. I asked Lt. Morris if he had a copy of the Florida statutes and
requested he take the time to read the statute. He begrudgingly read the
statute, agreed it was a second degree misdemeanor, but asserted it was a
civil rights violation and, as such, not within the jurisdiction of law
enforcement. He then began to look up the electronic record of previous
cases and told me that every case he saw was nulle prosed. Null prosequi is
a legal term meaning "be unwilling to pursue", a phrase amounting to "do not
prosecute". It is a phrase used to describe a prosecutor's decision to
voluntarily discontinue criminal charges either before trial or before a
verdict is rendered. I shared with lt. Morris that I was familiar with each
of these cases and knew that the decisions to dismiss the charges were only
made after the defendant agreed to and completed community service hours
before a verdict was rendered so as to avoid a criminal record. He then
became very condescending - a pattern that seems pervasive when advocating
to law enforcement for people with disabilities and not accepting their
uninformed assertion. (You will find this tactic repeated later in this
article when attempting to advocate with the State Attorney's office.) He
told me I could not possibly know about every case of this offense filed in
the county. I assured him I did and knew the outcomes. He again asserted
there was nothing he could do for me.

 

In a last ditch effort, I asked him to contact the State Attorney's office
and get an opinion from them. Surely I thought they would understand the law
and agree this case had merit. Surely I was mistaken!

 

On Friday, November 20, lt. Morris called to inform me that he had spoken
with Rene Murrati, Assistant state Attorney for the 13th Judicial Circuit.
Lt. Morris reviewed the facts I had shared with him and asked me if they
were correct; I agreed they were. He told me Ms. Murrati agreed with him
that the case was without merit and they would not pursue it. He gave me Ms.
Murrati's telephone number and advised me to contact her if I had any
questions. I called the state Attorney's office and left a message for Ms.
Murrati to call me.

 

Later that afternoon I received a return call from Ms. Murrati. Ms. Murrati
reviewed the facts with me as she said they were told to her by Lt. Morris.
The facts she related to me were not the same facts lt. Morris reviewed with
me when he called to advise me Ms. Murrati gave him her opinion the case
lacked merit. Specifically, Ms. Murrati told me Lt. Morris advised her that
the vehicle was too small to accommodate me and my guide dog and that
another vehicle was immediately dispatched to transport me. The fact that
the vehicle - a minivan with the center bench and front passenger seat
removed and with two other passengers on board - had sufficient room for
both my guide dog and me is objectively verifiable; however, the state of
Florida refused my repeated invitations to demonstrate this fact. Also, the
fact that the irrational fear of dogs is not a valid reason to exclude me is
a matter of law (413.08(3)(f)). The fact that HART did not dispatch another
vehicle but left me waiting for 90 minutes while the other passengers were
dropped off is a matter of record. All the facts as I have presented them in
my narrative are supported by HART's audio recorded conversations between
the vehicle operator and the dispatcher who gave the order to deny me
transportation, as well as audio recorded conversations between HART's
customer service representatives and me. Ms. Murrati also repeated the
mistaken notion that all charges brought in the past were dismissed, a fact
she said indicated the law was unenforceable. Seemingly frustrated by my
persistence and the logic of my arguments, Ms. Murrati cut me off and told
me she would not discuss a hypothetical case with me. When I asked what she
meant, she adopted a very condescending tone and asked me if I had a case
filed with her office. I admitted I did not and expressed my frustration
that I could not get an unbiased person willing to consider objective
evidence and the provisions of the law. She advised me that, once I had a
case filed with her office she would be willing to discuss this further. I
am certain she believed this would be the final time she would hear about
this.

 

I then contacted Kyle Cockream, director of Hillsborough County's Public
Transportation Comission. Mr. Cockream, who once was a law enforcement
officer and with whom I had worked on other transportation-related issues
involving service animals, was stunned with Ms. Murrati's refusal to pursue
this case, as well as lt. Morris's attitude and behavior. Mr. Cockream
agreed to help me and, true to his word, he did!

 

On Monday, November 23, a full five days after the incident, I received a
call from Deputy Sheriff Raymond Clites to advise me he had a request for
prosecution he wanted to deliver to me. I felt relieved and encouraged that
this issue was being taken seriously; however, my feelings of encouragement
were to be short-lived.

 

A request for prosecution requires a complainant to wait at least ten days
but no more than twenty-one days to file the complaint. This is known as a
"cooling off" period and is meant to clear the docket of cases filed out of
emotion. Since the tenth day (November 28) was a Saturday, I filed my
request for prosecution on Monday, November 30. I was advised I would be
contacted in about two weeks with a decision. As the two-week period expired
without any response, I was still feeling optimistic, trusting the State
Attorney was performing due diligence to ensure their case was well
supported. Once again, my optimism in the legal system meant to ensure our
civil rights was misplaced.

 

In early January I decided to call the State Attorney's office to find out
how the case was proceeding. I received a return call from Assistant State
Attorney Allison Hearn who advised me charges would not be filed. When I
inquired about how the decision was made, Ms. Hearn told me that her office
agreed there was not enough room in the vehicle to accommodate the two
passengers on the vehicle and me and that one of the passengers was afraid
of my dog. I advised her that it was absolutely untrue that there was not
enough room and this could be objectively verified, again offering to
demonstrate that my dog and I were able to comfortably fit in the van
without encroaching upon the space of other passengers. I also once again
cited Florida law that fear of animals was not a valid reason to deny my
access. Then Ms. Hearn made a statement that literally took my breath away;
she told me one of the witnesses made a statement that I became very angry
and made racial slurs toward the driver. Such a statement is very offensive
to me and, without mincing words, is a bold-faced lie! As a matter of fact,
after the initial approach to the vehicle when I was told to not open the
door, I never came within twenty feet of the vehicle. How could someone
inside a closed vehicle twenty feet away with the engine and air
conditioning running hear what I said. Furthermore, until Ms. Hearn told me
of this statement, I knew nothing about the driver except his name which was
given to me by Gregory Brackin. It is also a matter of record, as reported
in the criminal complaint, that the second passenger on the vehicle stated
he could not hear any part of the conversation between the driver and me.
Furthermore, the driver to whom these racial slurs were allegedly directed
made no such accusations. In the typical manner in which those who employ
arbitrary inference, only the details that support the faulty, fallacious
conclusion are considered no matter how untenable. Ms. Hearn then advised me
the case was closed and no further action would be taken.

 

Dissatisfied with this decision, I once again contacted the State Attorney's
office and asked to speak with mark Ober's office. Mr. Ober is the elected
State Attorney for the 13th Judicial Circuit. I left a message at the
extension to which I was transferred and received a return call from Douglas
Covington, chief of the misdemeanor division. I could tell from Mr.
Covington's tone of voice he had adopted the same arrogant, condescending
tone as Lt. Morris and Ms. Murrati. I had the feeling Mr. Covington was
unwilling to consider anything that was to be said, yet still held out
optimism that he might have an open mind to consider a reasonable argument.
My assessment of his attitude was correct but my optimism was misplaced.
Throughout the call, Mr. Covington reiterated the previous false assertion
that there was not enough room on the minivan. I asked if he had objectively
verified this and offered to get two of my biggest friends and demonstrate
there is plenty of room for three people and a guide dog. He refused to
objectively verify this, apparently unwilling to be confused by the facts.
He stated both passengers and the driver all contend there was not enough
room. I asked what expertise they had to make this assessment and was told
they were both on the minivan. Again I inquired about their ability to make
this assessment and he reiterated the same answer.

After reading the sworn statements of the passengers, I now know how the
passengers were able to make this assessment; they were told so by the
driver. In fact, the driver asked the passengers if they minded the dog
sitting on their feet or on their laps! Again, this is a Chrysler Minivan
with the center bench seat and the front passenger seat removed. There was
more than adequate room for both my dog and me without encroaching on the
space of another passenger. Mr. Covington was still unwilling to consider
the facts!

 

Mr. Covington then said, continuing his mocking tone of voice, "Do you know
what they are saying about you?" I told him I realize one passenger said I
made racial slurs and that this was a lie. He replied the witness would
testify to this fact. I asked how this excused the conduct and he told me it
brought my character into question. I asked him why, if I had made such an
inflammatory statement, neither the other passenger nor the driver made such
an allegation and received no reply. He then stated that HART made a
reasonable accommodation for me by returning to transport me ninety minutes
later. I attempted to tell Mr. Covington the law does not provide for a
reasonable accommodation; rather, it requires a modification of policies,
practices, and procedures to allow a person with a disability accompanied by
a service dog full and equal access but he refused to consider what I had to
say. I asked him what part of being left for ninety minutes was full and
equal to which he again replied, "And you are not an attorney!" I admitted I
was not but was a primary advocate for this statute and understood its
purpose and provision. He told me again that, since I was not an attorney,
my opinion was irrelevant. I told him I was not satisfied, that I believed
his interpretation was incorrect, and I would pursue this further. Again he
said, "And you are not an attorney!" He offered to give me his supervisor's
name and I advised him I would be seeking a meeting with mark Ober. He
wished me luck and terminated the call.

 

It is my firm opinion that the State Attorney for the 13th Judicial Circuit
made a decision to not prosecute this case long before the facts were
presented to them and they persist in their refusal despite the availability
of objective evidence. The discrimination began with the refusal of HART to
transport me, continued with the individual at the Hillsborough county
sheriff's Office who took my original call, was promulgated by the
supervising deputy, reinforced by the Sergeant, and entrenched By Lt Morris.
Rene Murrati decided before she saw the facts that the law was
unenforceable, and every attorney who reviewed the case, as the reply from
Mr. Cox asserts, was likely influenced by the reliance on inaccurate
information about previous cases.

 

In their refusal to consider the objective evidence, the state of Florida
not only denies the remedies available by law, they condone and support
discrimination, marginalizing disabled people and relegating us to
second-class status, unworthy of equal rights and equal protection. They set
a precedent that a taxicab driver can violate state criminal law by refusing
to transport a disabled person accompanied by a service dog provided another
vehicle is dispatched ninety minutes later. And if that driver refuses to
carry us, I guess the state of Florida would have us wait another ninety
minutes; after all, they are making an accommodation! The state of Florida
is telling us that a restaurant can refuse to seat those of us who use
service dogs inside if they make an accommodation for us by serving us
outside the restaurant. The state of Florida is telling us that, if a retail
establishment refuses to allow us in the store, they can make an
accommodation for us by bringing our purchase outside and letting us pay for
them there. Perhaps the state of Florida also believes disabled people
should live in our separate communities where we would not have the need to
interact with our nondisabled peers, should have our own seating areas in
restaurants, our own water fountains, be required to sit in the back of the
bus (or in the front of the bus, as often attempted by HART drivers), should
only be able to marry other disabled people, and, if the law does not
require us to be sterilized, should we have children, we should not have the
right to raise them! The legal decision by the state of Florida that the
disabled are not entitled to participate in society on terms of equality is
archaic and offensive. Every citizen in this state should be appalled by the
treatment we are receiving by those who have the power to make an impact on
this sort of discrimination, namely our law enforcement agencies and the
state of Florida through their agents at the state Attorney's office.

 

I am confident in my understanding of Florida statute and we cannot stay
silent while the state pursues a pattern of discrimination against the
disabled. There is no more graphic illustration of discrimination in
violation of Florida law and no stronger evidence of the state's support of
our second-class status than is demonstrated by these facts. The contention
that HART did not deny this right by leaving me in my driveway is
irrational. The further contention that returning for me ninety minutes
later was a reasonable accommodation, even if the law did allow it, is
equally absurd! Mr. Covington told me he could not convince a jury of six
reasonable people that HART denied my right of full and equal
accommodations, advantages, facilities, and privileges by leaving me
standing in my driveway. The only reason this would be so is because Mr.
Covington has convinced himself and the other prosecutors in his office of
the erroneous conclusion of law to which he has arrived. No matter how Mr.
Covington rationalizes, justifies, or intellectualizes HART's behavior, The
law does not allow an entity to make an arbitrary, capricious unreasonable
discriminatory decision he is calling an accommodation; rather, it requires
the modification of policies, practices, and procedures so that the disabled
have the rights to which all citizens are entitled: Full and equal
accommodations, advantages, facilities, and privileges. This is what the law
protects, this is what the law requires, and this is what disabled people
should demand. Anything less is bigotry, plain and simple!

 

The state is not providing us equal treatment but telling all of us we
should settle for less than equal

The state obviously believes disabled people are not entitled to equality
but only the unreasonable accommodations those who know better what we need
and deserve are willing to dole out to us. They have sent the clear,
unambiguous signal that we should not expect equality but lower our
expectation to the level of those, such as the state of Florida, who still
hold low expectations for us

We should not live the life we want; we should be gracious and humble,
living the life of low expectations, unequal treatment, and second-class
status. They expect we should not be drivers in our own lives but be
relegated to and settle for simply being passengers driven by those with an
arrogant sense of authority who disregard our civil rights and our efforts
of self-determination and self-advocacy. Unless all citizens stand up for
the rights of others and demand the State Attorney prosecute those who
violate these civil rights, we leave the door wide open for future
discrimination and the undermining of our civil rights by the state

 

If you think this is only happening in Florida, you would be very wrong. I
have faced the same arrogant condescension when advocating for guide dog
users across the country. Our civil rights are minimized and trampled upon.
We are seen as angry malcontents who should be grateful for the charity we
receive and ignore the demeaning disregard with which we are treated.

 

The state of Florida has the strongest, most sound statute in the nation. We
have used it as a model throughout the country; however, Mr. Covington and
the staff of the State Attorney for the 13th Judicial Circuit are summarily
nullifying it. By doing so, Mr. Covington, as an agent of the state of
Florida, is actively sponsoring discrimination against the disabled. Unless
we demand the state of Florida prosecute this case, we are condoning
discrimination by our passivity. Unless our judicial system stands behind
our fundamental civil rights, including our right of liberty, we will be
unable to travel freely, unobstructed by arbitrary decisions borne of
ignorance and will be relegated to second-class citizenship.

 

I urge every person who reads this article to do three things: first, call
the State Attorney for the 13th Judicial Circuit at (813-272-5400 and tell
them you are appalled that they condone and support discrimination against
the disabled. Secondly, send this to someone else and ask them to take
action. Lastly, stand up and stand behind those working to ensure the rights
of the disabled by getting involved in making the change. The best way to
get involved in shifting public attitudes about the blind is to become a
part of the oldest and largest organization of the blind in the world - the
National Federation of the Blind.    The National Federation of the Blind
knows that blindness is not the characteristic that defines you or your
future. Every day we raise expectations because low expectations are the
obstacles that stand between blind people and our dreams. You can live the
life you want. Blindness is not what holds you back.

                
 
Fraternally yours,
 
Marion Gwizdala, President
National Association of Guide Dog Users Inc.
National Federation of the Blind
(813) 626-2789
(888) 624-3841 (Hotline)
President at nagdu.org
http://www.nagdu.org
 High expectations create unlimited potential for the blind!
 

  _____  

 

For more information about the blind, the National Association of Guide dog
Users, or the National Federation of the Blind, please call (813) 626-2789,
email us at info at nagdu.org or visit our websites >http://www.nagdu.org
<http://www.nagdu.org/> > or http://ww.nfb.org <http://www.nfb.org/> .

 

 

 



More information about the Ohio-talk mailing list