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Hollywood moves to cut off sales of alcohol to homeless 'drunkards'

Legal experts allege city operating outside bounds of law

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. – The notices hanging at various convenience stores in Hollywood look like something the FBI might issue for wanted criminals -- only in this case, police are sending out notices targeting "drunkards."

One hanging in a window at a Mobil gas station on Sheridan Avenue featured the mug shots of seven men, along with their names and birth dates, for all to see.

"This is a notice from the Hollywood Police Department that the following individuals are known habitual drunkards," it reads. "Do not sell them alcoholic beverages," it continues, threatening store owners with arrest under an archaic Florida law should they disobey the directive.

"It's just a scarlet letter," attorney John David, who has worked extensively on homeless issues, said.

David said the notices are "labeling somebody as a drunkard, which is just totally slanderous." He said all of the men who appear on multiple "drunkard" notices obtained by Local 10 News appear to be homeless, and many list their addresses in court records at the Jubilee Center for the Homeless in Hollywood.

"It's a total attack on the homeless there," David said. "It's just outrageous."

Assistant public defender Rudy Morel, who routinely works with cases involving substance abuse, called the city's practice a form of "social cleansing."

"I think it's blatant discrimination," Morel said.

Both Morel and David contend that it's the city of Hollywood that is acting outside the law with the notices. The law cited on the notices by the city dates back to the 1940s, hence the “drunkard” label, and makes it a second-degree misdemeanor for a business to serve booze to an alleged alcoholic after that person's family members provide notification.

"They're not applying it properly," Morel said. "They're using color of government to single out a class of individuals."

Homeless advocate Sean Cononie said he is considering having David file legal action.

Morel, who also happens to be a medical doctor, said the practice could be dangerous for those on the lists. 

"They could go into serious alcohol withdrawal, which could be deadly," he said.

City officials, however, are defending the policy.

"I like it," Commissioner Dick Blattner said of the practice.

Blattner admitted that the practice is specifically aimed at homeless people in the city in an effort to get vagrants out of public places.

"People were hanging out, buying single-serve beer, going into the parks and into the canals, upsetting the neighbors and the homeowners, littering and trashing the community," he said.

Blattner said the city's labeling of people as "drunkards" was something that bothers him.

"Probably would be better if we had a better way of defining who should and should not have alcoholic beverages," he said.

So when did it become the city's business to determine who can and can't have alcoholic beverages? 

"I think it becomes the city's business to alert those who sell products that lead to unseemly behavior that it's best if they don't do that," Blattner said.

The commissioner said he doesn't know if the practice is constitutional. 

"I'll ask the city attorney," Blattner said.

The city issued a statement to Local 10 saying that six of the men on the notices had compiled nearly 100 arrests and municipal violations apiece and that the drunkard notices were intended as an alternative to arrest and to assist them in their plight.

Hollywood did not address the fact that the law requires that family members contact establishments -- not local governments -- but did claim that it was able to contact family members of two of the men who "requested help" from the city. 

The city said staff of the convenience stores "welcomed the support of police." Of two convenience store employees contacted by Local 10 News, one was in favor of the practice and the other felt it was a violation of rights.

"We want to help find the resources they need to improve their lives," wrote city officials.

Homeless advocates said the practice amounts to public shaming, however, and does nothing to help the chronically homeless.

"They're, in my opinion, practicing a type of social cleansing, which is deeply offensive, should be offensive to every resident and citizen into his country," Morel said. "Because that's not the kind of thing we do as Americans."