Man Banned From Hemming Park Sues Over Loitering Rules

Jul 31, 2018

As Jacksonville attempts to revitalize its downtown, some people complain they are being forced out of city parks illegally.

As part of the city's efforts to encourage more people to come to Hemming Park, there's music, new places for people to relax, even food trucks. It’s the image the city is trying to showcase at the park in front of City Hall.

Our News4Jax partner reports the changes have made some people feel unwelcome, and Alvin Xex is filing a federal lawsuit against the city, Mayor Lenny Curry, Friends of Hemming Park, its CEO and Central Security, its private security company.

He complains that the city's enforcement of state loitering laws is unfair.

Xex said he was forced to leave Hemming Park and told to never return after he questioned protesters to support keeping Confederate statues.

Related: Read the Hemming Park rules

"We exchanged words. Just words. And security, about five minutes afterward, came in and forced me out of the park. And I let them know it’s a public space," Xex said. "He said, 'You can’t stand on the sidewalk.' I let them know, 'You are wrong.'"

He admits the loitering rules that security was enforcing are posted, but believes that those rules are illegal.

"Is loitering standing there two minutes? Twenty seconds?" Xex said. "I see men all the time standing there in business suits. Some standing there two minutes; five minutes. What constitutes loitering?"

Last week, filed a federal complaint asking a judge to overturn them.

According to the complaint: "The city violated not only state laws, but federal laws, harming my civil rights," 

Xex said he is not homeless, but feels like he has to take a stand for others.

City officials are not commenting on the lawsuit, but last month the CEO of Friends of Hemming Park, the nonprofit group that oversees the park, denied that the rules were designed to keep certain people away.

"If you’re going to be in the park, you have to abide by the rules," Bill Prescott said. "You have to make it welcoming for everybody. That’s really the only change we made. You have to enforce the rules of the park, and that’s made the people who were there decide to go someplace else."

There is no monetary claim in the complaint, although Xex said he might add that later. But what he most wants is for a judge to tell the city it cannot force people from a public space like Hemming Park.

Legal experts told News4Jax that the outcome will depend on how a judge interprets the loitering law, and whether it is a violation of civil rights.