Stanton backer won't be charged

Published May 9, 2007

LARGO - During the tense meeting in February, the issue before city commissioners was whether to fire transgender City Manager Steve Stanton.

Stanton has long been fired.

But until recently the fate of civil rights advocate Nadine Smith, arrested at the February meeting, still hung in the balance. Smith, who supported Stanton, was jailed, accused of resisting arrest with violence, a felony.

Now her fate also has been resolved: Prosecutors in the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office have declined to file charges on the felony and a misdemeanor of disturbing other assemblies.

"The state attorney, having taken testimony under oath at a state attorney investigation, concludes that the facts and circumstances revealed do not warrant prosecution at this time, " prosecutors said in a new court pleading.

The assistant state attorney who investigated the case was not available Tuesday to elaborate.

Smith, 41, of St. Petersburg is the executive director of Equality Florida.

"It has been extremely frustrating to see the complete fiction coming out of the Police Department and not (be) able to say so, " Smith said Tuesday. "Everyone ... really expected the charges to be dropped."

Largo police officials, however, stand by Sgt. Butch Ward.

He said he tried to prevent Smith from passing out fliers inside City Hall because city officials had prohibited it for the already emotional meeting.

Officials "believe Sgt. Ward's actions were appropriate based on the rules set forth by city administrators in terms of participant behavior during the hearing, " said Mac McMullen, a spokesman for the Largo Police Department.

Police have said Smith was asked several times not to pass out fliers that read "Don't discriminate." Instead of complying, she asked "Why?"

As she was being led out and told she could hand the fliers out outside, police reports state, she "began yelling, 'They are forcing me to leave, ' and 'I'm being arrested.' "

Once an officer started to take her into custody, the reports state that Smith "pulled her arms away" and struggled to keep from being handcuffed. It took four officers to put the cuffs on.

Smith maintains that Charlie Deppish of Tampa asked her for a flier and she gave it to him. She said when the officer took the flier out of Deppish's hand she asked why it was illegal?

The officer said, "I'm not going to argue with you" and grabbed her, according to Smith.

In a normal tone of voice, Smith said, she alerted people she knew that she was being arrested.

Smith said she believes her arrest was meant to intimidate people from exercising their First Amendment rights.

McMullen pointed out that Smith was allowed to speak at the February meeting and at a the subsequent meeting when Stanton was fired.