PRESS RELEASE: Southwest Ranches and Pembroke Pines City Councils Sued Over Sunshine Violations
For Immediate Release
City Councils Called to Account for Their Illegal Meeting
Yesterday the law firm of Thomas & LoCicero filed a lawsuit on behalf of brothers Joel and Robert Chandler. Joel Chandler and Robert Chandler v. The Town of Southwest Ranches City Council, and The Town of Pembroke Pines City Council alleges the defendants denied the Chandlers access to a public meeting in violation of the Florida Constitution and Florida Statute.
On November 5, 2011 the Chandlers were denied access to a joint town meeting hosted by Southwest Ranches and Pembroke Pines in an attempt by the two city councils to win public support for the construction of a private prison by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) that will be one of the largest immigrant detention facilities in the United States.
The lawsuit alleges the defendants required anyone trying to enter the meeting to fill out a registration card with their personal information including their name, home address, telephone number and email address. The civil complaint further alleges that members of the public were then coerced to place the completed registration cards into boxes marked “support” “opposed” and “neutral.” Members of the Pembroke Pines Police Department and Broward County Sheriff’s Office assaulted Robert Chandler, a disabled veteran, when he refused to fill out the registration card and declare his position on the construction of the private prison.
Video taken by the Chandlers supports their claims that they repeatedly tried to speak with the organizers of the meeting in order to ask that the unlawful barriers to entry be removed. Each time law enforcement officers and city officials told the Chandlers they could not meet with the organizers. Video also shows that many of those attending the meeting felt intimidated by the coercive tactics employed by the city councils.
Hundreds of people showed up for the meeting. Some of those in attendance expressed concerns that the completed registration cards were available to ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and CCA (Corrections Corporation of America). Due to the nature of the proposed private prison and the involvement of ICE and CCA, some protestors expressed concerns that by filling out the registration cards, they might become targets for harassment, intimidation and even deportation.
Some of these who objected to the registration cards pointed out that in its own corporate videos, CCA portrays itself as a paramilitary organization and has been implicated in many serious civil rights violations including running “gladiator schools” and CCA personnel raping inmates in their custody.
According to the lawsuit, the conditions for entry established by the two city councils violated the constitutional and statutory rights of the plaintiffs by creating unreasonable barriers to access and therefore were unlawful. Former Attorney General Bob Butterworth moderated the meeting. Butterworth served on the Governor’s Commission for Open Government Reform.
The Chandlers are also the plaintiffs in a different lawsuit (Chandler v. CCA) that was filed after the private prison contractor unlawfully detained and then trespassed the Chandler brothers at the Moore Haven Correctional Institution. In that case, the Chandlers attempted to make a public records request pursuant to the contract between CCA and the State of Florida (see page 114 ¶ 11.21). The trial for Chandler v. CCA is scheduled for late February.
If the Chandlers prevail in the case against the two city councils, Florida law (FS 286.011) provides that the individual city council members may be held personally responsible for the costs of litigation. FS 286.011 also makes knowing violations of Florida’s Open Meetings laws subject to criminal prosecution, fines, imprisonment and removal from office.