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Here's why charges against Ben Frazier were dropped

Governor DeSantis team arrested Ben Frazier ahead of a press conference January 4, 2021.
Claire Heddles
Ben Frazier is arrested ahead of a press conference by Gov. Ron DeSantis on Jan. 4, 2021.

Community activist Ben Frazier will not be prosecuted because his trespassing charge was punishment enough for disrupting a press conference by the governor, the prosecutor's office says.

The 7th Circuit State Attorney’s Office “felt the arrest was sufficient punishment,” according to an email to WJCT News. The charge against Frazier is being dropped.

Frazier said he tried to attend Gov. Ron DeSantis’ press conference Jan. 4 at the Duval County Health Department in order to address the governor’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, among other issues he says disproportionately affect Jacksonville's Northside.

"It's time for him to speak honestly and straightforwardly about a significant part of his population that is underserved, marginalized and oppressed," Frazier said.

Now, Frazier and his attorney are still threatening legal action unless the governor's office agrees to a meeting.

"Americans should never be treated like political dissidents, and that is the way this governor has treated me," Frazier said. "Singled me out, targeted me, treated me like I'm some type of political dissident living and working under some authoritarian regime."

Frazier’s attorney, John Phillips, says he plans to file federal and state lawsuits over the arrest — including a claim that Frazier was removed from his mobility aid and forced to walk.

"The federal claims are like the First Amendment, deprivation of speech, ADA. Those are all federal laws, so the federal lawsuit can be filed. We've just got to draft one up," Phillips said. "The state law claims would get into malicious prosecution or false arrest."

Phillips said he plans to submit a notice of intent to sue to the state as early as next week, unless Frazier's other demand is met: a meeting with the governor's office. Philips said he will likely drop legal action if that happens.

Claire Heddles
Ben Frazier was removed from his mobility aid and forced to walk during the arrest.

"Despite the governor’s saying they’d facilitate a meeting with Mr. Frazier, there is still no word from the governor’s office," Phillips wrote in an email. "We invite that and suspect a simple meeting could avoid legal action entirely. It’s all he wanted all along."

The governor's press secretary, Christina Pushaw, wrote in an email to WJCT News on Jan. 10 that her office had not received a request for a meeting.

Phillips then sent a letter Jan. 14 formally requesting a meeting between Frazier and the governor. Phillips said he never received a response.

Pushaw did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday about the requested meeting.

The misdemeanor trespassing charge against Frazier was tossed around like a hot potato leading up to the special prosecutor's dismissal.

Duval's state attorney, Melissa Nelson, asked the state to reassign the case because of dialogue between her office and Frazier about criminal justice in the past.

The state's general counsel declined her request, as the governor's office was directly involved, as reported by WJCT News partner News4Jax. In the end, Nelson passed the case onto a special prosecutor in the state's 7th Circuit in Deland, David Smith, who decided to drop the charge.

The press conference in question was for DeSantis to announce plans to open a new monoclonal antibody site in Jacksonville. That treatment site was shut back down within a week of opening after the FDA revoked authorization for Regeneron, which was found to be ineffective against the omicron variant.

Claire joined WJCT as a reporter in August 2021. She was previously the local host of NPR's Morning Edition at WUOT in Knoxville, Tennessee. During her time in East Tennessee, her coverage of the COVID pandemic earned a Public Media Journalists’ Association award for investigative reporting. You can reach Claire at (904) 250-0926 or on Twitter @ClaireHeddles.