[Ohio-talk] Discrimination Continues

Cheryl Fields cherylelaine1957 at gmail.com
Mon Feb 22 16:31:00 UTC 2016


Wow! This just goes to show that we must be persistent and
supportaative of each other!
I encourage everyone to read this and make the phone call, even if you
are not a guide dog user. Blessings, Cheryl


On 2/21/16, Shelbi Hindel via Ohio-talk <ohio-talk at nfbnet.org> wrote:
>
> 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/> .
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
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