Man told he could be at Marco Farmer's Market before police arrested him on trespassing charges
The son of a longtime Marco Island Farmer's Market vendor was wrongfully arrested on trespassing charges last week due to communication issue by city officials.
A trespass order for Eric Stahl had previously been in place, but he had been permitted by City Manager Mike McNees to help put up and tear down his father's booth before the arrest was made.
In an email to the City Council last week, McNees took responsibility for the incident.
"To be clear, what happened is NOT the fault of MIPD or the officers at the market — they were acting pursuant to a valid trespass order," McNees wrote. "I take full responsibility for not ensuring that the accommodation that had been reached with Mr. Stahl did not translate down to an actual modification of the trespass order before the market reopened today."
McNees told the council that a trespass order had been put in place because of "behavior issues" that occurred a week prior. Police records show Stahl had a history of causing verbal disturbances. After the most recent incident, Parks, Recreation and Culture Manager Samantha Malloy wrote in a sworn statement to police that staff felt threatened and were concerned about Stahl's behavior after an argument over his tent at the market.
Stahl's sister, Mimi Rose, emailed McNees to convey the importance of the event to her 87-year-old father, Frank, who had been participating for 20 years, and ask for leniency.
Rose also detailed other issues and communications issues their family had with city staff.
McNees agreed Stahl could attend to help set up and tear down his father's booth, but those orders were not conveyed to the police department.
"Following multiple conversations over the ensuing days with multiple members of the Stahl family, I agreed, after conferring with (Director of Community Affairs) Dan Smith, to modify the trespass order to allow Eric to be at the market during the setup and teardown periods to help his dad, but not while the market was open," McNees wrote. "This was to accommodate the father and facilitate his continued participation at the market. It was also done with the understanding that we would keep an eye on the situation, because what all of the family members agreed on was that their brother’s behavior was quite problematic."
An apology was given to some members of the family, and McNees said the city was filing the appropriate paperwork to have the charge dropped.
Internal questions also arose as to whether the city can enforce a trespass order for a public park.
"From my research, the courts consider city parks as public forms which demand the highest protections from infringement upon free speech/the right to be at the park," Joseph Natiello, an attorney with the city's legal firm, wrote. "As such, a law (or in this case, a trespass warning) imposing upon this right must be narrowly tailored to meet a compelling government interest.
"From what I know so far, this guy was attending an event held at the park during hours the park was open. If he caused a disturbance, he can certainly be arrested for disorderly conduct. But legally, I don’t believe prior incidents of disturbances is a sufficiently compelling government interest to allow for infringement upon his right to be at the park via a trespass warning."
Ultimately, City Attorney Alan Gabriel told McNees and Police Chief Tracey Frazzano on Friday that a trespass order could be enforced "only when the warned subject is entering the park for non-first amendment issues/use. If the subject wants to enter the park to exercise free speech in any way, the City should avoid enforcing the trespass warning."
Shortly thereafter, an internal email was circulated within the police department that Stahl would not be under a trespass warning from city parks until further notice. A revised trespass order was issued to Stahl on Tuesday evening, limiting what hours be could be present at the market.