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Seed to Table owner, legal team announce lawsuits against Collier County for mask mandate

Kaitlin Greenockle
Naples Daily News

At least 200 people gathered outside Seed to Table market in North Naples on Saturday clothed in Americana and holding signs addressing their opposition to Collier County's mask mandate.

Seed to Table owner Alfie Oakes and his legal team, attorney Jim Boatman and state Rep. Anthony Sabatini, R-Howey-in-the-Hills, announced to the crowd they will be filing multiple lawsuits within the next few weeks against Collier County and the commissioners who voted for the mask mandate.

On Tuesday, the Collier County Commission voted 3-2 to pass an emergency order that requires owners, managers, employees, customers or patrons of a business in unincorporated Collier to wear a face covering while in that business. 

Commissioners Burt Saunders, Penny Taylor and Andy Solis voted in favor of implementing a mask mandate.

Oakes and his legal team say the mandate is unlawful and a governmental overreach, attorney Jim Boatman said.

"We will not back down," Oakes said.

By the way:City of Naples to hold special meeting to discuss opting in to Collier County mask mandate

Alfie Oakes speaks during a gathering in opposition to the mask mandate passed by the Collier County Commissioners on Tuesday, at Oakes Farms Seed to Table Market on Saturday, July 25, 2020. Oakes announced that he and his legal team will be filing multiple lawsuits against Collier County and against the three individual commissioners that voted for the mandate.

Boatman continued to speak to the crowd of supporters stating that it is their individual right to make decisions for their health care and the commissioners need to stay true to their oath to uphold the Constitution. 

Sabatini has filed lawsuits against mask mandates in several other counties around the state.

Throughout the announcement the crowed cheered and clapped in support, sometimes breaking out in a chant yelling, "Alfie!"

Commissioner Taylor said Oakes has the right to sue and that in today's world anybody can sue anyone for anything.

"I guess we will see what the courts have to say," Taylor said.

Commissioner Solis declined to comment and said he would defer to the county attorney.

Commissioner Saunders could not be reached for comment.

Oakes started voicing his opinions and moving forward with the lawsuits because he doesn't want to see people lose their opportunity.

"As we let our liberties go by the wayside we lose opportunity," Oakes said.

Oakes said he grew up poor and built his own company that now employs 23,000 people.

"I've been able to live the American dream," he said.

A sign detailing Seed to Table's mask exception guidelines hangs outside the entrance to the store during a gathering in opposition to the mask mandate passed by the Collier County Commissioners on Tuesday, at Oakes Farms Seed to Table Market on Saturday, July 25, 2020. Collier County Commissioners who voted against the mandate are shown with Uncle Sam hats, while those that voted for the mandate are depicted above the word socialist.

Many people in attendance at Saturday's rally stated they believe the media is creating unnecessary fear and creating division in the country.

Sarah Daniel, 72, of Marco Island, was dressed head to toe in American flag print, a "Make American Great Again" belt and a "Trump 2020" purse.

Daniel said she loves her country and came out to support Oakes because she said they have a country to save.

She mentioned how almost every boy in her high school class fought communism in Vietnam and she is scared for America's children now.

More:Finding Covid-19 exam sites in Naples takes some sleuthing

And:Relief in sight for delays in COVID-19 test results in Southwest Florida

In Lee County:Need a COVID-19 test? Here are some locations

Before Oakes made his announcement the crowed rallied together listening to live music by Jason Beal, who sang Buffalo Springfield's "For What it's Worth," a song commonly sung at civil rights protests. 

As the group congregated in front of the store and spilled into the street, a car drove by almost hitting some of the attendees and yelling slurs against President Donald Trump, Seed to Table General Manager Dan St. Martin said.

St. Martin and another employee stepped in to redirect the vehicle, who had two unidentified women inside, as one woman threw a cup at a male attendee. The two women drove off without serious incident.

Jim Gibbs is held back as he yells at the driver of a car after the driver and passenger drove through the parking lot yelling slurs against President Donald Trump and threw a cup out the window during a gathering in opposition to the mask mandate passed by the Collier County Commissioners on Tuesday, at Oakes Farms Seed to Table Market on Saturday, July 25, 2020.

Oakes has been quite vocal, and litigious, in the last few months.

Earlier this month, he filed a federal suit against the Lee County school district, which had dumped its multi-million dollar deal with his firm after he called George Floyd a "disgraceful career criminal." Floyd, a Black man who died in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25, sparked protests against racial injustice across the country, including Southwest Florida. Prosecutors have filed charges in his death

Oakes also had declared that COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement are "hoaxes." After that, the school district "severed ties" with Oakes and his company, which had been providing products for students, such as fresh fruits and vegetables.

Oakes, who is seeking $50 million in damages, said it was a First Amendment right to free speech.

The district was in a three-year contract with the Naples-based supplier and had an annual renewal option to continue services through 2024. Services during the first year of the contract, from July 2018 to June 2019, were estimated to cost $4.9 million, according to school board documents.

Oakes also filed a separate complaint with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, accusing school district officials of violating the Sunshine Law open meeting rules.