Criminal Justice

Chicken Man "Relieved" Charges Dropped But Fears Free Speech Stifled

Dressed in a chicken suit, Morgan Gianola was arrested on February 11, 2023, during a protest at the Dogs and Cats Walkway in downtown Miami.
Dressed in a chicken suit, Morgan Gianola was arrested on February 11, 2023, during a protest at the Dogs and Cats Walkway in downtown Miami. Photo by Committee to Undermine the Carollo Klan
Miami-Dade prosecutors have declined to pursue charges against a man who was hauled off in handcuffs while dressed up as a chicken last month to protest the grand opening of Miami Commissioner Joe Carollo's sculpture park in downtown Miami.

Morgan Gianola, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Miami, was arrested on February 11 after Miami police claimed he and his fellow protesters in chicken outfits made clucking noises and "caused a disturbance at the event." Officers booked him on counts of resisting arrest without violence, trespassing, and disorderly conduct.

"I'm relieved that the charges are dropped," Gianola tells New Times. "I think it's a tacit admission that this arrest was unlawful and that there are deeper underlying issues as to why this happened."

To call out what they believed was a misuse of a million dollars of public funds, a group of activists known as the "Committee to Undermine the Carollo Klan" (CUCK) deployed four people wearing bright yellow chicken costumes at the pet sculpture opening at Maurice A. Ferré Park. Activist and CUCK member Thomas Kennedy, along with documentarian Billy Corben, helped organize and film the protest.

Carollo, as chairman of the Bayfront Park Management Trust, and his wife Marjorie had come up with the idea for the controversial Dogs and Cats Walkway after she watched an online video about a park in Colombia decorated with cat sculptures.

"What we want is to point out that you let your wife use a million dollars of public funds to build a bunch of statues for dogs to poop on, where we have a problem of affordable housing, we have a problem of environmental degradation," Gianola says. "There's so many other issues that require those resources."

The chicken protesters wore custom white undershirts, AKA wife beaters, flaunting Carollo's mugshot from his 2001 arrest on a domestic battery charge involving his ex-wife. As part of the spectacle, they handed out the shirts and held up signs calling the commissioner a "wife beater" as he stood on stage at the event.

Officers from the Miami Police Department told the protesters they had to leave the public event, and as the group was being escorted out of the park, Gianola tried to hand out one of their custom shirts, at which point police "went fucking ballistic," according to Kennedy.

After Gianola was slapped in handcuffs, he asked the officers why he was being considered a threat and what problem he was supposedly posing for the people in attendance. He claims "they didn't really have an answer" and carefully crafted a narrative in the police report that would justify his arrest.

"When I was in the back of the car, I was mystified," Gianola adds. "It didn't seem real. I couldn't really understand, like, what is their argument? Like, how can I be trespassing in a public park at a public event?"
Despite posting his bail around 10 p.m. that night, the 31-year-old was not released from Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center until 8 a.m. the next morning, he says. He describes being herded like cattle through the jail and spending the night in a large, brightly lit holding area with about 60 other people, some of whom he believed showed signs of mental illness.

"This is happening all the time," he contends. "People are not in situations where they're able to defend against it... A lot of it is just what the cop wrote in the police report and 'that's what happened.' That's sort of taken at face value."

In the closeout memo, county prosecutors raised discrepancies between the arrest affidavit and the officers' body-cam footage. For the disorderly conduct charge, assistant state attorney Michael Fente noted that officers' footage revealed there was "insufficient evidence to support" the allegations.

"While the defendant can be seen in his full-body costume handing out T-shirts, the crowd appears generally uninterested. A small number of civilians can be observed accepting T-shirts from the defendant, but the body-worn footage lacks evidence of any conduct considered 'disorderly,'" Fente writes.

Fente found that while Gianola appeared to tense his arms during the handcuffing process, his actions did not rise to the level of resisting arrest.

Although his client's charges were dismissed, Gianola's attorney David Winker says the ordeal could discourage others from speaking out and protesting in Miami for fear it could land them in jail.

"We live in a country where these rights are actually protected," Winker tells New Times. "At the end of the day, if you are going to make a decision about speaking out against the government [in Miami], there is a strong possibility that you're going to get arrested. You will likely get off, but it is going to cost you."

Gianola claims his arrest highlights the misuse of policing for political purposes.

"This kind of corruption — commissioners and people in positions of political power using these connections to the police force to silence dissent and get what they want — is going on all the time," he says.
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Naomi Feinstein is a fellow at Miami New Times. She spent the last year in New York City getting her master’s degree at the Columbia School of Journalism. She is also a proud alum of the University of Miami.
Contact: Naomi Feinstein

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