'Threaten and intimidate': St. Pete housing activists say Pinellas County Sheriff Deputies spent hours surveilling protest

PCSO surveilled activists for around 12 hours, even though they were outside of PCSO jurisdiction.

click to enlarge PSCO cruisers lined up near the Pinellas County Courthouse, ahead of a demonstration by housing rights advocates. - William Kilgore
William Kilgore
PSCO cruisers lined up near the Pinellas County Courthouse, ahead of a demonstration by housing rights advocates.
Pinellas County Sheriffs Deputies surveilled a group of housing rights activists for around 12 hours during a demonstration that was being held outside of their jurisdiction, on St. Petersburg city property.

Yesterday, housing activists staged an "emergency tent city" sleep-in demonstration at St. Petersburg City Hall to demand rent control be put on a November ballot for voters to decide on.

But the morning before the demonstration began, an unnamed person from the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office (PCSO) contacted an organizer to tell her that camping on the grass across the street from city hall would be illegal, because it is Pinellas County Courthouse property.

"Earlier today [PCSO] called me to threaten and intimidate me about sleeping outside with a tent with St. Pete Tenant's Union to demand that Mayor Ken Welch and the City Council declare a housing state of emergency to get rent control on the ballot," Karla Correa of SPTU posted to Twitter on Wednesday.

Via text message, Correa confirmed  to Creative Loafing Tampa Bay that she received the call from PCSO, adding that she ended the call after she realized the purpose was to intimidate herself and other organizers.

A couple of hours before the demonstration was scheduled to start at 9 p.m., around 20 PCSO officers arrived in front of the courthouse in their squad cars, seemingly to prevent the demonstrators from camping there.

Last week, housing advocates hosted a sleep-in demonstration at the courthouse park before a city council meeting. PCSO did not interfere with that demonstration.
But this time, the organizers set up in front of city hall, which is city property, and so the sheriff's deputies had no jurisdiction over their actions.

Still, the deputies stayed four around 12 hours, until the housing advocates left.

They stayed even after St. Pete Police issued the campers a $93 ticket for camping without a permit, and went across the street to tell PCSO deputies that the campers were fine to stay there for the rest of the night, organizers say.

The officers wandered around outside their squad cars, which were facing the demonstrators, but they never actually came across the street to talk with them, Correa said.

The deputies remained until after 6 a.m. in the morning, when the people who camped for the night were leaving, SPTU organizer Jack Wallace said.
The activists feel that PCSO used taxpayer money to surveil and menace them as they are sticking up for human rights in a city where the number of children going homeless has skyrocketed in recent years due to rent gouging.

"We won’t let these thugs intimidate us from fighting for housing justice," William Kilgore of SPTU wrote on Twitter, with a picture of the several PCSO cars lined up, facing city hall.

When asked for input, PCSO responded with one sentence.

"We have no comment on this," Sergeant Amanda Sinni of the Public Information Office wrote.

PCSO was recently caught trying to illegally evict a tenant in St. Petersburg before SPTU prevented them from doing so.

About The Author

Justin Garcia

Justin Garcia has written for The Nation, Investigative Reporters & Editors Journal, the USA Today Network and various other news outlets. When he's not writing, Justin likes to make music, read, play basketball and spend time with loved ones. 

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