Suit filed against Florida county for discrimination against registrant transition ministry

By Sandy . . . In December of 2019, we wrote a piece featuring missions and shelters around the country that include registrants among those they help. Among those featured was City Walk, a faith-based transition ministry whose motto “Every saint has a past, every sinner has a future” is shown as part of their deep-rooted belief system as they minister to those whom most of society has shunned.

What was not known to us at the time of that posting is that City Walk’s home ministry and its executive director Renee Miller were embroiled in an on-going campaign of hatred and discrimination.

City Walk Urban Mission, in Crawfordville, Wakulla County, Florida, was incorporated as a non-profit organization in 2012. They began their faith-based transition home ministry in Crawfordville in 2013 and functioned with the blessing of the governmental authorities without any problems for over a year and a half. The address of the mission was accepted as a registerable address for their clients. It is a very modest program, generally sheltering and working with three men at a time. Since 2013, 80 men have availed themselves of the services offered by City Walk. From the onset they were approved by the Wakulla County Planning and Zoning Department as a family care home and told they could accommodate up to six individuals at a time, including staff.

In 2015, their troubles began when a neighbor took it upon himself to out the residents of the home as “sex offenders.” It started with flyers of Florida’s sex offender registry page for one of City Walk’s residents being put up around the house and all over the neighborhood. The home was broken into; windows were broken.  Complaints against City Walk to governmental authorities resulted in withdrawal of their approval of the mission’s operation and numerous attempts to shut them down.

Complaints of harassment and vandalism done to their property, however, resulted only in the county sheriff’s department joining in the vendetta against City Walk.

City Walk has filed a lawsuit against Wakulla County, Florida. Some of the points raised are:

  • A neighbor turned over the ministry’s trashcan and scattered the trash all around and then filmed the residents picking it up and recorded himself saying, “Look at the trash picking up the trash”; law enforcement did nothing;
  • A neighbor built an A-frame swing and put it in the ditch in front of the ministry, declaring it to be a park; this resulted in the county refusing to register any new residents for the ministry, saying it was too close to a park. This was subsequently overturned by the state of Florida and the county ordered to register residents at that address;
  • A deputy with the sheriff’s department came into the ministry without a warrant and proceeded to take photographs, trying to find evidence of illegal activity or code violations;
  • A sergeant with the sheriff’s department told Ms. Miller, “I hate what you’re doing. I hate who you help. We are watching you . . . I’ll follow you until I find a reason to arrest you.” He further told her, “They [meaning the men in City Walk’s program] have no rights in my opinion. They will always be criminals to me and I have to protect this community from them. I want to see them back where they came from.”
  • A building inspector told Ms. Miller, “If you ever say I said this I will deny it. But if you promise not to help any more sex offenders, we’ll promise to leave you alone.”

City Walk’s attorney Noel Sterett, a religious liberty attorney and partner with the Dalton and Tomich Law Firm, said, “The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA) protects City Walk’s right to serve those God has called them to serve, free from government interference and discrimination.”

Taking the high road, one can feel pity for the neighbors and for local law enforcement that they are so out of touch with reality and so ignorant of the fact that institutions like City Walk provide valuable services that enhance public safety, helping men with criminal pasts become rehabilitated – an important goal of our criminal justice system – and transition back into the community in a healthy and safe manner.

It would appear that the neighbors of City Walk, as well as governmental officials and the sheriff’s department in Wakulla County, Florida, do not care as much for safe and healthy societal transition as they do for the popular persecution of persons who are required to register as sexual offenders.

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Sandy Rozek

Sandy is communications director for NARSOL, editor-in-chief of the Digest, and a writer for the Digest and the NARSOL website. Additionally, she participates in updating and managing the website and assisting with a variety of organizational tasks.

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    • #72080 Reply
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      Maestro

      * A sergeant with the sheriff’s department told Ms. Miller, “I hate what you’re doing. I hate who you help. We are watching you . . . I’ll follow you until I find a reason to arrest you”*

      Well, if THIS isn’t proof of how cops CREATE crimes, I dunno what is. What this sergeant said is quite typical of what a lot of cops say and do. I hope they not only get their sorry butts sued, I hope they lose their jobs. I would also try like hell to file a personal lawsuit against that sergeant for what is clearly harassment. You don’t go around looking for a reason to arrest someone. You arrest someone only when they have committed a crime.

    • #72083 Reply
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      Tim in WI

      Sandy,
      Either the regulatory regime of improves harmony or it does not. Either the regulatory regime promotes public safety or not. In the March to a more perfect union either the regulatory regime helps or it does not.

      Too bad it takes a lawsuit to determine if it is or not.

    • #72145 Reply
      Avatar
      CJB

      Good Day Sandy

      Please also keep in mind, that, in Wakulla County, there is a Florida State Prison called Wakulla Correctional Institution

      Oddly enough, it is/was known as a ‘FAITH BASED CORRECTIONAL INSTITUTION’….WELL ..

      that is farther from the truth as I was housed there and I must say, .. Religious Politics took Bounty everywhere….fortunately, the Sunday Catholic Mass Program, was the only thing that never really got cancelled, which got me thru the prison thing…..thank you Jesus

    • #72155 Reply
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      Derek

      I don’t know why this type of discrimination still continues as it is supposed to be against the law, yet those in law enforcement are braking those laws and encouraging others to do so and still have a job! Things should be done to change things! SO are people too.

    • #72174 Reply
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      Donna

      Find some solace in the facts; these neighbors and sheriff are “darn stupid” and should find a job where they can really take out their displaced anger on. I don’t know where this town is, but hope that sheriff’s Department starts to prioritize their work. Sounds like they have no life of their own or just don’t have enough crime there to validate themselves.

    • #72206 Reply
      Avatar
      CJB

      Good Day

      The only way to ‘SOLVE’ this Pandemic of a Problem IMMEDIATELY is to have 50% of all Quasi-Correctional Guards/Officers call out sick and demand a personal 14 day Quarantine for The Big Corona, wherein, there would be a massive prison BREAK!

      like in the movies…back in the day!

      be safe and healthy out there!

      Happy Moms Day to All MOMS

    • #72222 Reply
      Avatar
      Perry

      I had to sit back and think a long moment, before writing what I wanted to say in this particular story. The time WILL COME, and sooner than I believe or think, that Immediate Relatives of The S.O.’s WILL come together and do some kind of Class Action Lawsuit against this Sheriff’s Department. As for this so-called ‘Faith Based Correctional Institution’? To me; it seems It’s ‘Faith’, is NOT Based on The Holy Bible, but based on ‘Secular Man-Faith’. I say it like that, because There’s No Room for Spiritual Grace Practices and Mercy-Driven Attributes…and never will be! So when enough Family Members get tired of the way THEY TOO, are being Treated by People and Law Enforcement down there, look out!
      Once Again: Here Comes THE REVOLT!
      Done.

    • #73272 Reply
      Avatar
      Edward

      CJB,
      Just think how law enforcement has used their tactics against African Americans, do you think that this class of people(registrants) won’t be next?

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