For the second time this year, Immigration Attorney Andy Strickland deliberately violated the city's no smoking ordinance and received a citation. Strickland believes that the ban is illegal and unconstitutional and wants to challenge the charge in court.
Strickland tried this at least twice before, finally receiving a citation in February. He prepared for his day in court when, to his surprise, the charges were dropped at the discretion of the Gulfport City Manager and City Attorney.
City Attorney Andrew Salzman told Gulfport Patch in a previous story, "We wanted to bring it forward to the Special Master, versus going through the expense of county court.”
That prompted his latest "smoke in" on Saturday.
More than a dozen supporters joined Strickland and lit up their cigars and cigarette's at 10 a.m. on Saturday, April 21 at one of the pavilions on the beach.
"Everybody's entitled to their right," Morgan Jones said.
Jones is a Gulfport resident, small business owner and cigar smoker. Jones is a member of Cigar Rights of America and says cigar smokers are being attacked. He says as a smoker, he respects other people and disposes of his cigars properly.
"This is a lifestyle, not a habit," Jones said.
Gulfpor resident Karen Dorn believes the city should reconsider the idea that Teen Council brought forward when leaders were discussing the ban. Members of the Gulfport Teen Council asked city leaders, in November, to ban half the beach to avoid infringing on people's rights.
"Listen to these kids. They had a great idea," Dorn said. "I invite the Teen Council to come back," Dorn said.
Dennis Cline of Madeira Beach said, "I think the erosion of any of our rights is something everyone should be concerned with."
Cline agrees with Strickland, calling the ordinance a "bad law."
Strickland says according to a Florida Statute, the regulation of smoking is up to the state, not local governments.
Regulation of smoking preempted to state. This part expressly preempts regulation of smoking to the state and supersedes any municipal or county ordinance on the subject; however, school districts may further restrict smoking by persons on school district property.
"I don't think they (City of Gulfport) have a leg to stand on," Cline said.
Within the hour, Gulfport Police Officer Robert McLaughlin stopped by the beach and informed protestors that officers were working on several overnight burglaries and someone would be back to address the situation.
About an hour and a half after the "smoke in" began, Gulfport Police Sgt. and Officer Pete Horning returned to the beach and asked the group to kindly put out their butts and cigars.
Officials informed the group that "out of respect for the officers", who were working on several burglary reports, they would prefer to write one citation. Strickland volunteered while the others complied with officers' requests.
Strickland received the citation, which carries up to a $143 fine. The citation specifies that Strickland is to appear in front of the magistrate at 11 a.m. on May 24 at Gulfport City Hall.
Strickland told Gulfport Patch that he would work to "get this thing out of the magistrate's hands," and appear before a judge.