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For charging his cell phone in a public park, a homeless man in Florida had to spend a night in jail because he couldn't pay his $500 bail.
Sarasota Police Sgt. Anthony Frangioni arrested Darren Kersey, 28, on suspicion of public utility theft for using a picnic shelter's electrical outlet. In his arrest report, Frangioni noted that "theft of city utilities will not be tolerated during this bad economy," the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reports.
But given the judge's reaction the next day, it's a good bet Frangioni didn't really understand what "theft of city utilities" actually means.
The judge threw out the case against Darren Kersey, saying there was no legal reason to arrest him.
Frangioni is technically correct in recognizing that public utility theft is a real crime. It involves people who take advantage of public utilities, including water and electricity, without paying for them. Often that means finding a way to alter utility meters so that officials can't tell how much is being used.
But what Kersey was doing wasn't illegal.
In legal terms, stealing is taking something that doesn't belong to you without permission. But everyone can use public property at any time, as long as their actions aren't unlawful.
So if there had been an ordinance in Sarasota that barred people from public picnic areas during certain hours, then Kersey's case may have had a different outcome.
But the city has no such law. And it's not uncommon for homeless people to use the outlets in that park to keep their cell phones working, the Herald-Tribune reports.
After Kersey's case was dismissed, he was free to leave. His first stop upon regaining his freedom? Probably back to that park to finish charging his phone.
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