Last Friday, Hillsborough County, Florida Administrator Mike Merrill (above) distributed a memorandum to “All Hillsborough County Fire Rescue Employees” decreeing that “Any membership or voluntary participation by Fire Rescue employees with an outside organization that is recognized by government agencies to support or be involved in criminal or illegal discriminatory activity will not be tolerated as these affiliations are contrary to the mission of public service.”
“Therefore,” the “directive” continues, “effective immediately, all Hillsborough County Fire Rescue employees are prohibited from being a member of or voluntarily participating with any outside organization as defined below: Any group, organization or gang characterized by the commission of, or involvement in, a pattern of criminal conduct as identified by the State of Florida or Federal government. Examples listed in the 2015 National Gang Report include, but are not limited to, Crips, Bloods, Surenos, Almighty Latin King and Queen Nation, Gangster Disciples, Hells Angels Motorcycle Club, Pagans, Vagos, Sons of Violence (sic), Outlaws, Banditos (sic), and The (sic) Mongols.”
Now! Breaking! Newz!
Merrill’s directive cannot be constitutional.y enforced Federal courts have repeatedly ruled that Americans have a right to associate with whom they please. The landmark Supreme Court case was N.A.A.C.P. v. Alabama in 1958. Justice John Marshall Harlan II wrote the unanimous decision and among other things he said, “immunity from state scrutiny of membership lists … is here so related to the right of members to pursue their lawful private interests privately and to associate freely with others in so doing as to come within the protection of the Fourteenth Amendment.”
Merrill’s memo was written in reaction to a series of sensational television reports by WFTS “ABC Action News I-Team” television personality Jarrod Holbrook. Last May, Holbrook reported that James Costa, a fire captain and medic for Hillsborough County Fire Rescue was president of the St. Petersburg chapter of the American Outlaws Association; that Clinton Neal Walker, another Hillsborough County fire fighter was also an Outlaw; and that Glen Buzze, a Captain and medic for neighboring Pasco County Fire Rescue was president of a local Pagans Motorcycle Club chapter.
The initial broadcast story was titled, “I-Team: Uncovering the Tampa Bay firefighters who run with criminal motorcycle gangs.”
Buzze had no criminal record. Decades before, Costa had been charged with battery but those charges were dismissed. Walker became part of the month-long series two days after the initial broadcast when he was attacked in a bar by a St, Petersburg police officer named Ruben DeJesus. DeJesus then charged Walker with felony battery on a law enforcement officer. When a video recording of what actually happened in the bar surfaced, the charges were dropped against Walker.
Holbrook did claim to have “obtained a flyer Buzze made on a taxpayer-funded fire station computer promoting an event for his MC.”
Ban Effects Nobody
After Walker was charged for simple battery following a September bar fight in Key West, WFTS sensationalized the incident, identified Walker as an Outlaw and resurrected its May reports in a news feature broadcast last Wednesday titled “I-Team: Hillsborough Firefighter and Outlaw faces Battery charge after biker brawl.”
One problem with the story broadcast last Wednesday was that Walker was no longer an Outlaw. An informed source said that Walker had been asked to leave the motorcycle club after the fight in Key West.
And an obvious problem with Administrator Merrill’s directive is that there do not now to appear to be any members of the motorcycle club working for Hillsborough County Fire Rescue. Costa retired from the county service last May 31. So the Administrator’s refusal to tolerate “Hells Angels, Pagans, Vagos, Sons of Violence, Outlaws, Banditos and Mongols” is entirely symbolic. It will have no effect. It was done entirely for the benefit of WFTS, not the citizens Merrill was hired to serve.