When Democratic activist Thomas Kennedy was detained at a news conference held by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis last month and then removed, Miami-Dade police said it was because he was not a member of the press. But public records now show that Florida's top law-enforcement agency had warned the Miami-Dade Police Department (MDPD) about Kennedy a day before the event, referring to him as a "known agitator."
On April 8, Kennedy, a member of the Florida Democratic National Convention and a vocal critic of DeSantis, was detained by MDPD officers in a parking lot at PortMiami about a block from where the Republican governor and members of his cabinet were discussing their plans to sue the federal government in order to get the cruise industry back in business after a year of COVID-related no-sail orders.
In a video Kennedy posted to Twitter, an MDPD officer told Kennedy that he was being issued a trespass warning and would be escorted out of PortMiami. When Kennedy argued that it was a public port, the officer responded, "Not for you."
The MDPD told New Times at the time that the news conference was for members of the media only and that Kennedy didn't qualify. But an incident report from the event shows that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) had given the MDPD an advance warning about Kennedy and that MDPD officers were on the lookout for him on the day of the press event. The incident report was first obtained and reported on by writer and activist Grant Stern.
The incident report, which Kennedy and Stern obtained in response to a public-records request, states that FDLE Special Agent Alejandro Oliva met with an MDPD sergeant on April 7 in reference to the governor's press conference the next day. Oliva told the sergeant about Kennedy, saying that he was a "known agitator" with a history of disrupting DeSantis' events. (Kennedy, who's 30, has garnered a reputation in recent years for crashing DeSantis' press conferences, publicly telling off the governor, and posting videos of his actions to social media.)
The FDLE gave the MDPD a physical description of Kennedy and his vehicle, which allowed officers to spot him when he drove into the PortMiami parking lot on the day of the press conference. The report says Kennedy was asked about his business at the port and told the conference was a private event and that he was not included on the list. He was then issued a trespass warning because he was not authorized or invited to be there.
On April 8, New Times asked the governor's press office whether any individuals were banned from attending DeSantis' press conferences. The office did not respond.
Kennedy suspected that he was singled out because he's a vocal critic of the governor. Other civilians were walking around the same parking lot, he says, but he was the only person approached by police. He says he hadn't even tried to enter the press conference before police stopped him.
Now that the incident report shows Kennedy was essentially blacklisted by the FDLE, an agency headed by a DeSantis appointee, Kennedy believes his suspicions of political motivation are confirmed.
"It's disturbing that the governor's using the police force as his personal corps to go after his critics and that FDLE is having meetings before his events where they're sharing my personal info, my vehicle description, to pre-emptively target me," Kennedy tells New Times.
A spokesperson for the FDLE tells New Times it is standard for the agency to be in communication with local law-enforcement agencies ahead of certain events.
"We work very closely with local law-enforcement agencies. If there are any security issues or safety concerns we have, including known agitators, we would notify the local agency," the spokesperson said.
The FDLE was unable to immediately respond to follow-up questions about whether it considers Kennedy a security threat or safety concern.
Stern and local attorney David Winker contend that Kennedy's expulsion from the press conference may constitute a violation of Florida's open-government law. They argue that the conference, where DeSantis and members of his cabinet discussed policy decisions, was a public meeting and therefore should have been open to anyone who wanted to attend.
According to the Florida Attorney General's Office, the law applies to all discussions or deliberations taken by a board or commission.
"The law, in essence, is applicable to any gathering, whether formal or casual, of two or more members of the same board or commission to discuss some matter on which foreseeable action will be taken by the public board or commission. There is no requirement that a quorum be present for a meeting to be covered under the law," the Attorney General's website states.
Kennedy says he plans to continue protesting the governor despite the FDLE's actions, emphasizing that he is peacefully protesting and using his right to free speech.
"This won't intimidate me. I'll continue exercising my First Amendment right," Kennedy tells New Times, adding, "I hope this emboldens other people to protest the governor."
Keep Miami New Times Free... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Miami with no paywalls.