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Prosecutors drop criminal case against man arrested at Miami-Dade school board meeting

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Courtesy: Kat Duesterhaus
Miami-Dade schools police officers forcibly removed Caleb Freestone from a July 20, 2022 school board meeting.

The criminal case against a man who was arrested at a recent Miami-Dade County Public School Board meeting has been closed — after the state attorney’s office declined to prosecute the three charges against him.

The decision comes after WLRN published an article detailing civil liberties concerns about the arrest of Caleb Freestone.

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Freestone had been charged with disorderly conduct, trespassing after a warning and resisting an arrest without violence, after attending a school board meeting on July 20. School district police officers physically removed him from the meeting and he spent the night in the county jail.

Earlier this month, a judge closed the case — after prosecutors said Freestone’s actions did not appear to warrant the charges.

When Caleb Freestone went to the Miami-Dade County School Board meeting on July 20, he says he was planning to give public comment on an ethics proposal and to speak in support of the district’s comprehensive health textbooks.

But he never got that opportunity.

The meeting devolved into chaos when women opposed to the curriculum — which included information on sex and reproduction — began shouting at board members, accusing the district of “indoctrination”, and bringing the deliberations to a halt.

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Sydney Walsh / Miami Herald
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A woman is escorted away by police officers after causing a disruption at the Miami-Dade County School Board meeting on Wednesday July 20, 2022 during a discussion of sexual health education textbooks. She was not arrested, according to the district, but a man named Caleb Freestone was.

On the other side of the auditorium, bystanders said Freestone — who’s a left-leaning activist — was sitting quietly. But he was physically removed from the meeting and arrested, after one of the women appeared to accuse him of being “antifa”.

School district police officers then surrounded Freestone, grabbed him by the arms and escorted him out of the building. He spent that night in the county jail.

“I’m still a little shaken up,” Freestone told WLRN after he was released. “But more than anything, I'm angry.”

An article published by WLRN detailed civil liberties concerns about the arrest, quoting a witness who said Freestone appeared to be doing nothing wrong.

School Board Vice Chair Steve Gallon said Freestone’s actions did not constitute “an arrestable offense”.

“I did not have any direct conflict or communication issue with him,” Gallon told WLRN. “The communication disruption came from several female members of the audience, which were very disruptive at the time, which were inconsistent with the board's policy on decorum.”

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Sydney Walsh / Miami Herald
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Vice Chair of Miami-Dade County School Board Dr. Steve Gallon III, left, and Board Member Mari Tere Rojas are seen at the Miami-Dade County School Board meeting on July 20, 2022. Parents, students and community members spoke during the meeting regarding health education textbooks titled “Comprehensive Health Skills” for middle and high school students.

Earlier this month, prosecutors declined to prosecute the case.

In a statement to WLRN, a spokesperson for the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office said Freestone’s actions did not seem to justify the criminal charges against him.

“This individual was attending a public forum at which he, like any member of the public, had the right to attend unless he began to impede the proceedings or unless he posed an imminent danger to others at that forum. At the point of his being taken into custody, neither situation appeared to exist,” spokesperson Ed Griffith said in a statement. “As a result, the charges were dropped.”

Freestone’s attorney, Joshua Tarjan, says he believes the article published by WLRN was persuasive to prosecutors. Tarjan said he and his co-counsel included the story in a statement they sent to the state’s attorneys, asking for the charges to be dropped.

“I can’t say for sure,” Tarjan said. “But I’m imagining the state did take that into consideration.”

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Courtesy: Kat Duesterhaus
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Miami-Dade schools security and police officers ask Caleb Freestone to leave a July 20, 2022 meeting of the county school board.

Tarjan says he’s pleased with the outcome — but it doesn’t change what happened to his client.

“The fact still remains that Caleb was arrested. Spent the night in jail. Money was paid to a bondsman. That money is gone. So the effect is still chilling,” Tarjan said. “Anyone going to a school board meeting needs to worry about whether they might get arrested for really doing nothing wrong. So that is very concerning.”

A spokesperson for Miami-Dade County Public Schools says the district doesn’t comment on individual criminal cases.

“All School Board meetings are open to the public. Members of the public may attend these meetings and may remain throughout the duration of said meetings so long as they adhere to Board policies and meeting protocols as well as applicable state laws,” Media Relations Director Elmo Lugo said in a written statement.

Tarjan says the handling of the school board meeting and the arrest of his client call into question the policies and procedures of Miami-Dade Schools security and law enforcement.

At a time when school boards across the country have been targeted by intense political pressure — and in some cases threats of violence — Tarjan questioned what kind of de-escalation training the school district police officers are receiving.

“The school board and the Miami-Dade Schools Police need to consider how they’re going to work with the public going forward so that an arrest like Caleb’s doesn’t take place,” Tarjan said.

“This issue is going to continue,” he added. “The question is how are the police going to deal with these school board meetings.”

Kate Payne is WLRN's education reporter