Monday October 29, 2007

The Jeff Weinsier incident

Jeff Weinsier gets arrested Last week, Channel 10 reporter Jeff Weinsier was arrested in front of Miami Central Senior High. By now everyone knows what happened, but let’s recap: 1) Weinsier and his cameraman, while shooting from the sidewalk, are ordered, and more or less forced, by police to go across the street; 2) Weinsier calls his station, who calls the police department, and they’re “given permission” to go back; 3) upon returning to the sidewalk on the school’s side, another confrontation with the police ensues, and Weinsier is arrested; 4) upon being searched, he is found to be carrying a concealed weapon, which is illegal on school grounds.

Well, WPLG 10 has now released the raw video of the incident, and C.L. Jahn breaks it down. C.L. Points out the obvious — that the video doesn’t show Weinsier ever setting foot on the school’s property. This misses the rather obvious point that we don’t know what happened before the camera started rolling. Video footage and photography are like that: our brain is tricked into thinking we’re seeing all there is to see. It’s completely possible that Weinsier was standing on the grass before the video we see was shot. And if he wasn’t, the police can certainly claim so, which may give some legal standing to their “lawful order” for him to stay across the street.

The law here is murky: schools are surrounded by a 500 foot “school safety zone,” and in some regards this zone is considered an extension of school grounds. Carlos Miller addresses the various laws that come into play here and here. It seems clear that Weinsier violated the law by carrying the gun near a school. But if that’s the only thing he ends up guilty of, it may very well overshadow the much larger issue: whether the police were right in ordering him off the sidewalk, and in arresting him. Carlos says:

According to Florida Statute 810.0975, which defines trespassing in “school safety zones”, a person is committing an unlawful act if he loiters in the school safety zone, but “does not have legitimate business in the school safety zone”.

The emphasis is his, and with good reason: a possible hinge-point is whether television reporting constitutes “legitimate business.” The common-sense answer would be ‘yes,’ but of course common sense is irrelevant. What’s relevant is how all the various facts of the case, and the relevant laws, are going to be interperted here. If the officer had a legitimate reason for ordering the reporters to leave (despite the fact that he doesn’t give one on camera, he of course had a reason — TV reporters file reports from schools all the time with no trouble), does disobeying the order actually constitute trespassing? Will they continue to insist that Weinsier stepped on the grass? Is it legally relevant that the Police Department’s own Public Information Officer told the station that it was OK for Weinsier to be on the sidewalk?

Perhaps most important: will the WPLG stick up for their reporter, and fight this case hard? On Friday, the station suspended Weinsier for two weeks for carrying the concealed weapon, a violation of their company policy. Fine; they may just be erring on the side of caution in preparation for the fight to come. But barring more information, this is a clear first-amendment issue, and the station — we all — need to pursue it to make sure it’s resolved properly. If the police were not right, there needs to be a major counter-suit. And remember: if the only charge that sticks is the concealed weapons violation, the police were wrong. In this case, that constitutes a technicality, because it wasn’t discovered until after the arrest. We’ve all seen how well police reports can spin police behavior even when it is obviously and clearly wrong. Let’s not stand for that this time around.

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  1. MiamianLawStudent    Mon Oct 29, 12:40 PM #  

    Please see Fla. Stat. Sect. 810.0975(2)(b) & ©. Given these sections, the most fundamental problem in this case may be that Weinsier didn’t seek or obtain permission to be inside the school zone. The law doesn’t prevent him from reporting or around schools, it merely requires him to obtain authorization or do so 500 feet away. Of course, his defense would be that he didn’t need permission because he had a “legitimate business purpose.”

    But, please, explain why it is “common sense” that television reporting constitutes a “legitimate business” vis-a-vis a school? Certainly news reporting is generally a legitimate business purpose but is it legitimate when conducted within a school safety zone WITHOUT permission? Do we know whether the subject matter Weinser’s conduct in reporting the case was legitimate? For example, was it sanctioned by his editors? Was it based on any substantial or reasonable leads? Was he conducting his reporting in a reasonable or professionally ethical manner? Was he harassing or intimidating students? Certainly not any action by a reporter with a camera can be a “legitimate business” just because he claims to be “on the job.”

    As for the gun…well that just throws Weinsier’s credibility out the window. What the hell was he thinking?

    That said, I’m not saying Weinsier’s guilty or not guilty nor am I saying the cop (and perhaps the school administrators) had the good or bad intentions in keeping Weinsier away. All I am saying is that, based on what we know, this is not as clear cut a case as you’ve portrayed it.

  2. DJ_Kremlin    Mon Oct 29, 01:10 PM #  

    If I had to work anywhere near Miami Central, I too would carry a pistol! That is one of the most dangerous areas of Miami. I don’t blame him one bit. As MiamiLawStudent said, it’s not a clear cut case, but as far as the gun issue goes, if he didn’t step on school property and has a concealed weapons permit, then I don’t see a problem.

  3. C L Jahn    Mon Oct 29, 01:10 PM #  

    C.L. Points out the obvious — that the video doesn’t show Weinsier ever setting foot on the school’s property. This misses the rather obvious point that we don’t know what happened before the camera started rolling.

    Actually, I did not miss that at all. I directly addressed this very issue:

    “And if, as the Police Department claims, he was standing on the grass, why didn’t the police tell him that’s why he was being asked to move across the street? Weinsier asked for a reason; the cops refused to give one. At no time did they cops say “we saw you on the grass, that’s trespassing.” Not once did they say that; all they would repeat is “We kindly ask that you move across the street!”

    Weinsier was clearly on a public sidewalk, he clearly wasn’t on the grass when the police asked him to leave, and he clearly wasn’t on the grass when they arrested him.”

    As for the gun: if the charge of trespassing gets thrown out, so to must the gun charge: if it was discovered during an illegal search, it’s not admissible as evidence. Without the trespassing charge, the MDSP would have had no reason to search him.

  4. alesh    Mon Oct 29, 02:12 PM #  


    They were doing a piece on school violence. The stuff about needing to get permission . . . you’re just inventing that out of thin air? I mean, if I’m walking down the street, and I happen to walk by the school, that’s allowed, right? So why not a newspaper reporter? Think about what it would mean if newspaper reporters had to “ask permission” every time they wanted to report from IN FRONT of a school. They don’t even have to do that in Communist China, dude.


    The fact that they didn’t say that when he asked them why he had to move doesn’t prove anything — cops don’t like answering “why” questions, because it just invites a debate. They say do it, you do it — that’s their position.

    I agree about the gun charge.

  5. MiamianLawStudent    Mon Oct 29, 04:42 PM #  

    The permission thing isn’t out of thin air. It’s in the statute. See:

    (b) During the period from 1 hour prior to the start of a school session until 1 hour after the conclusion of a school session, it is unlawful for any person to enter the premises or trespass within a school safety zone or to remain on such premises or within such school safety zone when that person does not have legitimate business in the school safety zone or any other authorization, license, or invitation to enter or remain in the school safety zone. Any person who violates this subsection commits a misdemeanor of the second degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.

    © Any person who does not have legitimate business in the school safety zone or any other authorization, license, or invitation to enter or remain in the school safety zone who shall willfully fail to remove himself or herself from the school safety zone after the principal or designee, having a reasonable belief that he or she will commit a crime or is engaged in harassment or intimidation of students entering or leaving school property, requests him or her to leave the school safety zone commits a misdemeanor of the second degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083. Nothing in this section shall be construed to abridge or infringe upon the right of any person to peaceably assemble and protest.

    As you can see in the bolded, italicized text above, the statute says a person who’s been asked to leave the school safety zone by the school principal or his designee, must make one of the following showings to justify his remaining in the school safety zone. One, he must have a legitimate business purpose or, two, he must have “authorization, license, or invitation.”

    Now, if Weinsier can show a legitimate business purpose you can forget the permission requirement. However, I don’t think it’s all that easy to show he had a legitimate business purpose. To the extent that he cannot show a legitimate business purpose, then he must show that he had permission.

    As for the requirement that reporters ask permission every time they want to report something about a school, unless we (and the law) conclude that reporting as Weinsier was doing is a “legitimate business purpose” within the meaning of statute, yes, they’ll need permission to do so within 500 feet of the school.

    And I don’t see much of a problem with this. What’s so constricting about this limit? Reporters are restricted from reporting in countless contexts. A reporter cannot demand to remain in a private home because he’s a first amendment right, nor can he demand to remain in public settings like courtrooms or government administrative buildings. Why not in schools? Why should schools allow reporters to ask children (13-17 year olds are children at least in the legal sense) without permission from their parents or their temporary legal wards (the school principal)?

    Here’s a deeper layer to this debate: in J.L.S. v. Florida , 947 So. 2d 641 (Fla. 3d DCA 2007), this very law was challenged as being vague, too broad, and therefore a violation of constitutional due process. Specifically, the plaintiff complained that the suppressed basic rights like “the right to of speech, association, movement and peaceful political and or social assembly.” The plaintiff was a student of Douglas MacArthur High and had been warned twice before about hanging out in Central’s safety zone. Then one morning as he was walking through Central’s safety zone at 7:25 a.m. a cop arrested him for trespassing.

    The Florida Third Circuit Court of Appeal threw out the case saying that the law was rationally related to the purpose of providing for greater school safety and it’s geographic limit and exceptions for legitimate business, nearby residents, and businesses limited its breadth. The court went on to say future cases where First Amendment freedoms might be limited can be handled on an “as applied basis.” That is, on a case by case basis. The Florida Supreme Court declined to review the case.

    Of course an argument can be made that the Florida courts were simply wrong. But this much is clear: when two sets of lawyers and a total of four judges have to work out a case in an eight page legal opinion, the case is not clear cut.

  6. MiamianLawStudent    Mon Oct 29, 04:51 PM #  

    Carlos Miller,

    I realized its an “or” in the statute. I didn’t mean to suggest otherwise. I just don’t know that it was a legitimate purpose. Sure, reporting is generally legitimate but what the statute means by “legitimate” must be decided within the context of the statute.

    The questions I posited were hypothetical and meant to settle the arguement. That said, the questions can be answered otherwise. For example, the subject matter of Weinsier’s report would be pertinent to determining whether he had good enough reason to be at the school. Alesh cleared up that the report was about school violence but lets say it was about a new maritime law. If that were the case, you could argue there wasn’t a legitimate business purpose in Weinsier asking high school students. Of what relevance are high school students’ opinions to changes in maritime law? I know this is a far out hypothetical but it illustrates my point.

  7. Rick    Mon Oct 29, 06:38 PM #  

    Let’s not stand for that this time around.

    And what, exactly, do you plan on doing, Alesh, if the cops are proven right? More blog posts? Maybe you’ll call them “assholes” more often?

    No, you won’t do anything but moan and complain that it’s another big cover up and yadda, yadda, yadda.

    I don’t know who’s right. I wasn’t there. I’m not a lawyer. But if someone who is weighs the facts and decides that the cops were justified then, you know what? Maybe they were. And unless you have evidence to the contrary, maybe it would better if you went along with the system that we have set up in this great country instead of thinking that you’re an expert on everything.

    BTW, enjoy the concert that you intentionally didn’t tell your readers about. Classy.


  8. alesh    Mon Oct 29, 08:36 PM #  


    You’re operating under the delusion that if cops put out a police report that says they acted appropriately, then that’s the end of it.

    Further: it may well turn out that under the law, Weinsier was legally obligated to obey the order regardless of the reason for it (because of the school safety zone). But even so, the cop in this case was an asshole unless he had a good reason for making the order. One of my hopes in this case is that his reason comes out at some point.

    One other thing. I don’t understand why statements like “Let’s not stand for that this time around” get under your skin so much, and why you resort to Jr-high “what are you going to do about it?” type bullshit. All I can do is point out the obvious — blogging about it IS doing something. People read my fucking blog. I’m not saying that I provoke vast reams of though, motivate multitudes to action, or change many minds. Maybe a few here and a little there. As far as I’m concerned, that’s doing something. But thanks, as always, for trying to piss in my cornflakes.

  9. MiamianLawStudent    Mon Oct 29, 09:19 PM #  

    Carlos Miller,

    I really don’t think this case will be prosecuted because this isn’t really a big deal, prosecutors have a lot more to worry about, and prosecuting the case would take up more resources than its worth. As you said they don’t want a messy 1st Amendment case over such a relatively minor situation. It’ll be a tough case and Weinsier has too good a chance of winning for the prosecutors to go after him.

    So Weinsier will probably get off just fine. His station, however, may just fire him for carrying around a gun against station policy. I don’t know, we’ll see.

    Now, if by some chance the issue does go to trial, it won’t matter that “legitimate purpose” is vague. So long as it is raised by one of the parties, the judge will have to wrestle with it; it’s what judges do.

    It could turn on a First Amendment matter alone, but in light of the case I reference above, both sets of lawyers (the prosecutors and Weinsier’s own) would be remiss to ignore the “legitimate business purpose.” The J.L.S. case suggests that First Amendment defense is not particularly strong in this context. So I think the trial will have to focus on “legitimate business.”

    Finally, unless the judge wants to be overturned on appeal (something judges never want), he won’t be able to focus on the gun issue without dealing with the “legitimate business purpose” matters. If the parties in a suit brief an issue, a judge must confront it. Again, both sets of attorneys would be remiss not to brief the issue. The prosecutors may hype up the gun issue if they’ve the opportunity to stand before a jury but it’ll be before a judge long before then and there’s a good chance the “legitimate business purpose” issue will be decided by a judge first because, arguably, it’s not something jury’s are supposed to decide. Arguably, it is a matter of law, not fact. Even if the case should reach a jury and the matter is decided to be one for the jury, the jury will be unable to ignore the “legitimate business” matter.

    Note also that Florida courts have already determined that hte statute is not impermissibly vague.

    Also, you’re absolutely right that the burden lies on the state to establish that Weinsier’s business purpose was not legitimate.

  10. alesh    Mon Oct 29, 09:30 PM #  

    btw: Death threats from restaurant owners? And he’s taking them seriously? Please. And then buying a gun and carrying it around stuck in his jeans (in front of a school and against his employer’s policy)? What a dick.

  11. Rick    Mon Oct 29, 10:17 PM #  

    You’re operating under the delusion that if cops put out a police report that says they acted appropriately, then that’s the end of it.

    Alesh: I have not taken a position on this incident. Just as I didn’t take a position on the UF taser incident.

    I’ll say it again. I wasn’t there and I didn’t see everything go down so why would I sit at my computer and render decisions on whether Weinsier stepped on the grass or not. Or pretend as if I’m an attorney or went to law school.

    We’ll see what happens just as we saw the investigation results of the UF incident. I have no idea how it’s going to end up. I’ll leave that to a judge to decide.

    One other thing. I don’t understand why statements like “Let’s not stand for that this time around” get under your skin so much, and why you resort to Jr-high “what are you going to do about it?”

    Because it sounds like you’re rallying your readers or something. Like you would do something more to show that you’re not going to stand for these types of police actions. I’m trying to figure out what the hell you’re getting at. What do you propose that “we” do, Alesh? Keep blogging? Picket the police station?

    You were also pissed that everyone just sat in their seats at the UF incident. What did you want THEM to do, Alesh?

    I mean, you’re the guy with the big ideas. Let’s hear it.



  12. alesh    Mon Oct 29, 11:08 PM #  

    “We’ll see what happens just as we saw the investigation results of the UF incident.”

    Exactly my point — for you, the investigation results settled the matter. No so for many others.

    You had no problem taking a stand on the Carlos Miller and Andrew Meyer before “all the facts were in,” did you? Those guys were assholes who deserved what they got, right? In this case, where the cops are perhaps much more obviously out of line (based on the raw footage), you’re cautiously reserving your judgment.

    “Because it sounds like you’re rallying your readers or something.”

    If anything, I’m rallying my readers to care. I think there’s a deficiency of plain ol’ giving a shit, and to whatever extent possible I’m trying to do something about it.

    I think when a lot of people care, the action aspect falls into place. There are plenty of people that are much better at, say, organizing a protest, then me. And I’ve supported protests in the past.

    Letter writing. Commissioner-calling. Voting. Civil resistance (in small measure — in the UF incident the student body would have looked a lot less pussified if they’d at least stood up and yelled a little). Small things that may possibly make a difference. I don’t claim to be a positive force on these issues, but I feel the need to at least try to be.

    Thanks for the questions.

  13. MiamianLawStudent    Mon Oct 29, 11:51 PM #  

    Carlos Miller,

    I’m assuming you don’t have the whole of the JLS case in front of you and you’re instead basing your comment on my summary. But take my word for it, the reasons provided by the Court in JLS had nothing to do with what you’ve noted. The JLS decision had nothing to do with the character of the plaintiff (i.e., a student from a notorious high school). Anyway, the case is too long to post here. So please find a PDF of the case here .

  14. C L Jahn    Tue Oct 30, 01:56 AM #  

    MLS, it would be stupid to argue that Weinsier didn’t have “legitimate business” in front of the school when he clearly DID have a legitimate reason to be there: a teacher at THAT SCHOOL had committed “suicide by cop” the day before. Any lawyer attempting to make such an argument would quickly have his head handed to him. Just so you know.

    This reminds me of the People’s Court where a UM Law student told the judge “that’s just an opinion” when she told him his argument didn’t make sense.

    What kind of lame law are they teaching at UM these days?

  15. MiamianLawStudent    Tue Oct 30, 02:46 PM #  

    First, I’m not a UM law student. Yeah, I know, if I’m not a UM law student I should change my screenname. Tell you what: for now on it’ll be AKA.

    It so happens I’m a going to law school in Chicago but I’m a Miami native, love the town, and will be returning when I’m through with school.

    CL Jahn,
    Please don’t compare me to that UM student and don’t ever compare your opinion to that of a judge’s.

    I didn’t know that was the story he was reporting on. That does give Weinsier a stronger case. From what Alesh had posted earlier, I thought it was about school violence in general. My bad for not researching the matter or closely reading / watching all the links provided.

    The nature of the story, however, doesn’t go the full distance in establishing that he was on “legitimate business.” Like I said earlier, a decent (i.e., not great or watertight, just “decent”) case can be made using basic canons of statutory construction that the court should interpret the meaning of “legitimate business” within the context of the statute. And, further, that news reporting without permission is within that meaning.

    Again, I don’t currently nor have I ever suggested that there was no hope for Weinsier’s case or that the police were fully justified.

    Carlos Miller,

    You’re right the Weinsier doesn’t have to argue over the constitutionality.

    I posted the case to emphasize that your reasons for distinguishing the two cases (e.g., the character of a student from Douglas Macarthur, etc) were baseless.

    Well, if the First Amendment issue’s set aside and we’re focusing just on the “legitimate business” issue, I’ve said all I’ve had to say.

    I don’t think the case is going anywhere. And if I had to guess an outcome, I’d say Weinsier would win. However, I’ll repeat, it won’t be an open and shut case…there are good arguments against Weinsier that don’t have to do with his carrying a gun.

  16. theCardinal    Thu Nov 1, 12:17 AM #  

    I’m taking a break from legal-ese to address the basic principles involved here. Reporters are a nuisance – provoke a reaction and they get a better spot on the newscast. So Weinsier is a probably a prick – so what? The cops of the keystone variety that he stumbled upon were worse.

    Seriously – these guys were downright obnoxious and abusive of their power. Can you imagine how insufferable they are when there isn’t a camera in their face?

    Personal B.S. story – I was once present at a scene where the news crews showed up – after filming me for thirty minutes I grew annoyed and threw my hand up to shield my face. That split second was immortalized by the four major TV stations that night. The next time something happened I just smiled or ignored them the whole time. When reporters hounded me for info I politely blew them off. Only one was kind and courteous – just out of spite I gave him the scoop. The reporter was David Bloom – great guy – he is missed.

  17. local journalist    Sat Nov 3, 01:11 PM #  

    yes reporters are considered a nuisance.

    yes the police were out of line.

    hats off to him for carrying concealed weapon. it seems like every other week in this city another robbery is prevented by someone carrying a concealed weapon.

    what if some of these teachers were given the ability to be armed in the case of these crackheaded school shootings. guns kept on lockdown until crisis, with teachers trained to use them. how many lives would be saved?

  18. local teacher    Mon Nov 5, 08:28 AM #  

    you’re gonna have to pay me more than 36k for me to get in the line of fire on your say-so. that and a better dental plan.

  19. william    Sun Nov 18, 06:19 PM #  

    Jeff Weinsier like any veteran news reporter knows the power of media. This is not the first time journalism has intentionally turned into sensationalism. Check out all the reality-tv style propaganda reporting from FOX and CNN and then switch to the BBC and see the difference.

    Is it any wonder that the Channel 10-raw footage was used to set a biased example against Miami Central High School and the majority of “Black” students/community. News reporting has degenerated to “actions-stunts” from Geraldo Rivera to Anderson Cooper but then we cannot really expect mainstream media to bring an all encompasing truth.
    The problem here is that a newsman intentinaly carried a gun into a public school. Not because he was afraid for his life or because he forgot to leave it at home but for ratings/self grandizing. What’s in it for him?

    He still has his job just like Don Imus.
    He generated more ratings for Channel 10.
    Miami is going through gentrification and
    this will quicken the bulldozing of our communties and construction of Star-BUCK$

    I wonder what would happen if Jeff Weinsier had done the same thing in a private school in Coconut Grove.

  20. onelife    Mon Nov 26, 07:57 PM #  

    jeff weinsier did not carry gun into a public school. get your facts straight