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Capitol protest causing security costs to rise


Published:   |   Updated: July 23, 2013 at 10:31 PM

TALLAHASSEE - The ongoing sit-in protest at the Capitol, now in its second week, so far has cost the state more than $97,000, including overtime and extra police, according to preliminary figures released Tuesday.

Most of that amount is regular time and overtime logged by Capitol Police, which has kept watch on the 30-50 protesters who have been living, eating and sleeping in the hallway outside Gov. Rick Scott's office around the clock.

At least five uniformed officers were observed keeping watch over the protesters after hours on Monday. The Capitol closes to the public at 5 p.m. and reopens at 8 a.m.

But agents from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement also have been called in to spell uniformed officers, FDLE spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger said. The department oversees the Capitol Police, which also patrols other state government buildings.

Some of the figures are part of the regular cost of patrolling the Capitol. The extra costs - about $37,000 - are being covered by the department's overtime budget for now.

"We'll have to address that as we go forward," Plessinger said.

Steven Pargett, spokesman for the Dream Defenders, the group organizing the sit-in, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday evening.

Plessinger also released a report of minor incidents from the last week, including one in which officers discovered two men and a woman partly clothed in the Capitol chapel.

"Everyone was instructed to get completely dressed and was informed the chapel was for worship, not sleeping," the report said.

It also noted that an aide to Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee, had "brought several protesters in through the north lobby before 5 p.m." on Friday.

"The north lobby door is unsecured and those who enter through this door do not go through the (metal detectors)," according to the report.

The report also said that Williams delivered food to the group over the weekend. The sit-in formally began last Tuesday, though protesters first arrived outside the Capitol the Saturday night before that.

Members of the Dream Defenders have said they were motivated to come to Tallahassee after the acquittals in the George Zimmerman trial.

Zimmerman, a community-watch volunteer, shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin during a February 2012 confrontation in a gated community in Sanford.

A struggle ensued, and Zimmerman said he fired his handgun in self-defense. A six-member female jury cleared Zimmerman of all charges in Martin's death.

Protesters have asked Scott to call lawmakers back into special session to revisit the state's "stand your ground" law and consider a Trayvon Martin Civil Rights Act. Scott met with some of the group members but refused their request, saying he supports the state's self-defense laws.

On Tuesday, they announced they were planning their own mock legislative session, saying they have invited lawmakers, experts and advocates to meet with them on Tuesdays over the next three weeks.

jrosica@tampatrib.com

(850) 765-0807

Twitter: @jlrosicaTBO

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