Lee street preacher’s wrongful arrest poised to cost taxpayers

FORT MYERS BEACH, Fla. — A street preacher is in line to receive taxpayer money in a settlement over a wrongful arrest.

Adam LaCroix was preaching on the beach in May 2013 when Lee County deputy Daniel Keim confronted him and asked whether he had a permit.

“We had already researched and known our rights, so I was prepared to defend my presence there,” LaCroix said.

Kleim left for a few minutes and returned to issue a LaCroix a trespass warning. When LaCroix refused to leave, Kleim arrested him and led him off the beach.

“It’s very shameful and it makes you feel like a criminal … and you’re a spectacle,” LaCroix said.

He faced charges of trespassing, violating county ordinances and disturbing the peace. But LaCroix and his wife fought back and sued Lee County.

LaCroix’s lawyer argued it was his First Amendment right to be “present in this public park, public beach, and to be engaging freely in speech,” making his arrest a wrongful one.

The charges were ultimately dropped. County commissioners are expected to sign off on a settlement paying LaCroix $40,000, with $15,000 coming from the county’s self-insurance loss fund and $25,000 from the Lee County Sheriff’s Office.

As part of the settlement, Lee County does not have to admit to any wrongdoing, county spokeswoman Betsy Clayton told WINK News.

“I’m hoping now that this case is settled, hopefully settled, that it will create a precedent and really make a point to everybody who is in law enforcement, and they’ll address it in house and teach their officers,” LaCroix said.

The sheriff’s office conducts continual training for its deputies on all aspects of constitutional law and the First Amendment, said sheriff’s office spokeswoman Sgt. Anita Iriarte.

The sheriff’s office didn’t discipline Keim, who didn’t violate any sheriff’s office policies, said Iriarte, who pointed to YouTube videos that reveal what she referred to as “LaCroix’s disruptive and harassing behavior toward beachgoers.”

Lee County Parks & Recreation is considering adjustments to its trespassing procedures. For more information about the proposed changes, click here.

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