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Hillsborough state attorney dropping charges against volunteers arrested for feeding homeless in Tampa park

Criminal charges dropped against people who were sharing food with homeless in public park.

  • “I believe civil society spoke very loudly to the city of Tampa and the city heard that message,” Dunson said.
  • Tampa Police Lt. Kim Torres, right, explains to Food Not Bombs members distributing food to the homeless at Lykes Gaslight Square Park Jan. 10 why their tables violate the city’s ordinance.
  • The last time Tampa police arrested volunteers feeding the homeless on city property was in August 2012, they said, just before the Republican National Convention.
  • Buckhorn told the Tampa Bay Times earlier this month that Gaslight park isn’t the appropriate place for the group to hold its food-sharing events, which he said attract as many as 80 people and have become “increasingly larger and more intrusive.”
  • The City Council voted last week to explore amending the ordinance that requires groups like Tampa Food Not Bombs to pull city permits and have liability insurance, noting that the St. Petersburg chapter of the group is allowed to hold events in downtown parks once a week without a permit.


TAMPA — Jimmy Dunson knew he was taking a chance when he arrived at Lykes Gaslight Square Park on Tuesday morning to feed the homeless. Just 10 days earlier, the same act in the same park lande

@PPInternational: Criminal charges dropped against people who were sharing food with homeless in public park.

TAMPA — Jimmy Dunson knew he was taking a chance when he arrived at Lykes Gaslight Square Park on Tuesday morning to feed the homeless.

Just 10 days earlier, the same act in the same park landed Dunson and six others in handcuffs. But this time Tampa police didn’t stop Dunson and his group, the Tampa chapter of Food Not Bombs.

Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren released a letter Tuesday dismissing the city’s trespassing charges against the group members arrested Jan. 7 in the city-owned park. The group was told it was violating a city ordinance that requires a permit and insurance to distribute food.

The news elicited a sigh of relief from Dunson, but it’s just one victory in a bigger battle, he said.

“The next step for us is to get this ordinance changed so this never happens again in Tampa to us or any church group or anyone else that is sharing with people experiencing homelessness,” said Dunson, a 32-year-old reiki practitioner who joined Food Not Bombs in 2003.

One volunteer’s initial court appearance was scheduled for today. Warren said Tuesday that he would file paperwork to drop the charge and would do the same for the other six defendants.

“My mission is to make our community safer while promoting justice and fairness for everyone,” Warren said in a statement. “Prosecuting people for charitable work does not further that mission and is an inefficient use of government resources.”

Warren included a catch, though, adding: “We will not prosecute the trespassing charges so long as the Tampa Food Not Bombs organization willingly participates in reaching a resolution to this matter and remains nonviolent.”

Warren said his office has consulted with the Tampa Police Department, members of Tampa City Council, Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s office and an attorney for Food Not Bombs “to facilitate a resolution.”

The City Council voted last week to explore amending the ordinance that requires groups like Tampa Food Not Bombs to pull city permits and have liability insurance, noting that the St. Petersburg chapter of the group is allowed to hold events in downtown parks once a week without a permit.

Still, Buckhorn told the Tampa Bay Times earlier this month that Gaslight park isn’t the appropriate place for the group to hold its food-sharing events, which he said attract as many as 80 people and have become “increasingly larger and more intrusive.” City spokeswoman Ashley Bauman said in an email Tuesday that the city will work with the group to find a different venue.

“There are locations in closer proximity to those in need with appropriate facilities. Our public places in our urban core are meant to serve as front yards to our increasing number of families, residents and visitors who enjoy them,” Bauman said. “A better solution would be for these groups to collaborate with the numerous nonprofits that already comply with the law and serve food in sanitary environments that abide by health code.”

Food Not Bombs members said they believe the enforcement effort was an attempt to clean up the park ahead of the Jan. 9 College Football Playoff championship game, a notion Buckhorn has denied. Thousands of visitors descended on downtown for free concerts and other related events during the weekend before the game. The last time Tampa police arrested volunteers feeding the homeless on city property was in August 2012, they said, just before the Republican National Convention.

Still, Dunson said he is optimistic that Food Not Bombs can reach an agreement with the city. The first discussion will come during a City Council workshop Feb. 23.

“I believe civil society spoke very loudly to the city of Tampa and the city heard that message,” Dunson said.

Contact Tony Marrero at tmarrero@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3374. Follow @tmarrerotimes. Contact Anastasia Dawson at adawson@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3377. Follow @adawsonwrites.

Hillsborough state attorney dropping charges against volunteers arrested for feeding homeless in Tampa park

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