tampabay.com

Distributing fliers, she runs into trouble

By JOSE CARDENAS
Published March 1, 2007


LARGO - Just one person was arrested during the tense meeting Tuesday that led to the dismissal of City Manager Steve Stanton, who is planning a sex change operation.

But how did a Tampa Bay activist's simple attempt to hand someone a piece of pink paper saying "Don't Discriminate" turn into a felony charge?

Police contend Nadine Smith, executive director of the gay and lesbian advocacy group Equality Florida, became disruptive when they told her stop distributing the fliers in violation of a city ordinance.

Smith supporters contend the St. Petersburg resident is a nationally recognized social justice leader with two years of nonviolent advocacy.

"We believe Nadine is completely innocent," said Amy Mandel, chairwoman of the Equality Florida board of directors, who spoke on Smith's behalf Wednesday.

Smith, 41, was released from Pinellas County Jail early Wednesday after posting $5,250 bail on a felony charge of resisting arrest with violence and a misdemeanor of disturbing others' assembly.

Tuesday night's special meeting drew nearly 500 people, many of whom came to make impassioned pleas either for keeping or firing Stanton, who said last week he is planning to have a sex-change operation.

The city assigned extra police and firefighters to the meeting. Officers had been instructed to stop the dissemination of fliers for three reasons, said Largo police spokesman Mac McMullen.

Fliers present a fire hazard; plus, when they end up on the floor, people can slip on them, McMullen said.

Given the already emotionally charged meeting, city officials also thought that fliers could become further disruptive, McMullen said.

Smith also lacked permission to pass out the fliers, as required by city law, he said.

"The gist of it was for the safety of the people that were engaged in this process and also to ensure there were no disruptions," McMullen said.

According to witnesses and police, Sgt. Butch Ward approached Smith in the lobby and tried to prevent her from handing a flier to Charlie Deppish of Tampa.

Deppish said he asked Smith for the piece of paper. But McMullen said officers had already seen Smith passing out fliers inside the building.

Deppish said Smith wanted to know why she could not give him the piece of paper.

"He said, 'I'm not going to argue with you,' " Deppish said. "She said, 'I'm not arguing. I'm just asking, why?' "

Ward tried to escort Smith outside where she would have been allowed to pass out the fliers, McMullen said. But he said that on the way out Smith became disruptive, telling people that she was being arrested.

She was taken to an area designated for potential arrests, McMullen said. He said there was "pushing and shoving" and it required four officers to arrest her because she was not complying.

"If she was upset and struggling ... I wouldn't blame her," said Deppish, an actor who said he came to the meeting to support Stanton. "She was being manhandled."