Updated, Wednesday at 3:08 p.m.: James Pogue of the Marion County Sheriff’s Office, in an email response to WUFT, said search warrants were obtained in these cases. He gave no further comment.
Original story, Monday at 10:37 p.m.:
The Florida Civil Rights Association is seeking a federal investigation into agencies they say discriminated against two Marion County women.
Mary Alexander and her daughter Tara Collins-Johnson were charged with operating unlicensed assisted living facilities in Ocala and Summerfield. According to a press release issued on Wednesday by FCRA, however, evidence obtained in their cases was a result of “a series of warrantless raids for Unlicensed Assisted Living Facilities (ALF) conducted under the pretext (police ruse) of administrative licensing inspections.”
According to the press release, the FCRA is asking the United States Department of Justice and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to investigate the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration, the Florida Department of Children and Families, the Marion County Planning and Zoning Board, the Marion County Sheriff’s Office, the state attorney general’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit and the State Attorney’s Office.
Alexander said she has done nothing wrong, but since her arrest on June 20, she has continued to experience “severe harassment from these agencies.”
Thomas Philip Hanson, the assistant state attorney prosecuting Alexander, did not return a call for comment on the issues raised against the State Attorney’s Office.
Alexander was also charged with and arrested for organized fraud on Dec. 10 after she was found in possession of 10 Electronic Benefit Transfer cards. She said she had signed permission for their use from the cardholders to help them manage food benefits, but residents said their cards had been taken without their permission, according to The Gainesville Sun.
Alexander pleaded not guilty to the charges, according to the court record, and the case is still open.
The root of the problem, she said, is racial discrimination in Marion County.
“In Marion County, they don’t want blacks to fight back. That is just against the law in Marion County,” Alexander said. “You do not fight back. If I tell you to shut up, you just say, ‘Yes, sir.’”
She described Marion County and its officials as still having “Confederate ways,” maintaining the discrimination of the 1940s and 1950s. Because of this environment, she said, African American business owners are not welcome.
Kyan Ware, the legal affairs chairman for FCRA, agreed with Alexander.
Ware said permit applications from minority business owners in Marion County take “forever and a day” to be processed if they are processed at all. Some are given what he called ludicrous reasons for why permits could not be processed and told to comply with unnecessary mandates. Minorities, he said, are effectively being stonewalled and intimidated from doing business in the area.
The misconduct in Alexander’s case, he explained, reminded FCRA officials of a similar situation in Orlando in which barbershops were searched. In both cases, warrants were not issued nor presented prior to the search of the businesses in question.
“We’re not defending anything that was found as a result of these searches,” Ware said. “For instance, the government claimed that they found these deplorable conditions and problems. We’re not defending that. We’re saying if you want to punish that, you’ve got to do it right.”
Illegal searches of this nature are not only disturbing to FCRA because they violate the U.S. Constitution, he said, but also because they appear to reflect widespread corruption or ignorance on the part of state officials.
Ware said members of the institutions in question are expected to know the law. So, he asked, why would they allow these illegal activities? The answer could lie in “incompetence or recklessness,” he said.
Shelisha Coleman, Agency for Health Care Administration’s press secretary, said in an email AHCA was unaware of any complaints filed with the Department of Justice or any other third parties. Coleman provided the final order given by AHCA concerning Alexander, which determined she had been operating unlicensed ALFs.
The agencies listed on the group’s press release have not yet responded to WUFT News with requests for comment.
The people of Marion County, Ware said, are not doing anything stop what the FCRA sees as injustice.
According to Ware, the white voting majority does not see a need to step in because white neighborhoods and business owners are not being targeted. However, he said he does not think that will last much longer if action is taken against them.
“As long as it’s not touching them, it doesn’t matter,” he said. “But when it is you, don’t complain. You’ve been forewarned.”