Verdenia Baker, the County Administrator for Palm Beach County, issued an illegal curfew order on Friday morning. The curfew is set to take effect at 3 pm today (Saturday). Sheriff Bradshaw made an unclear statement about the order saying that the curfew applies to anyone who is not out for “legitimate purposes” without explaining what might be legitimate. County prosecutor Dave Aronberg indicated that people will be arrested for violating the curfew.
Under state law the county has no authority to issue such a curfew. Section 252.36 of the Florida Statutes, specifically subsection 5, authorizes the Governor (not the county) to take a variety of actions in an emergency. This includes ordering evacuations and in rather vague terms: “Take measures concerning the conduct of civilians, the movement and cessation of movement of pedestrian and vehicular traffic.” It does also authorize the Governor to delegate emergency responsibilities to local officials.
The Governor’s Executive Order does not indicate any curfews and does not delegate curfew authority to local officials.
One of the biggest problems with this curfew order is that many people may be unaware of the curfew and in particular they likely will not know what constitutes a “legitimate purpose” – the term used by the Sheriff whose deputies will enforce this curfew in West Boca and other unincorporated areas of the county.
The curfew order itself does define what purposes are allowed:
Put simply, we can travel for medical care, work and/or school, and we can facilitate the transport or distribution of essentials. Of course if a deputy doesn’t believe or accept your reason, or is unaware of the details of the order, you might be arrested even if you’re within these exceptions.
Some residents are planning to travel from less secure locations to more secure locations (i.e. from unshuttered homes to shuttered homes), or to pick up vulnerable people and bring them to safer locations. These are not protected under Ms. Baker’s order. In other words, if you drive to Century Village to help a distressed elderly person you are violating the curfew and subject to arrest. Journalism is also not on the list of permitted purposes, a particular concern for us as we are (or were) planning to go out and document the effects of Irma on our community.
Another concern is residents of other counties. Deerfield News questioned what would happen to Broward residents who travel into Boca. They would be even less likely to know about the curfew and its details.
West Boca News recommends that residents stay off the roads after 3 pm today. While the latest hurricane forecasts indicate we are unlikely to face hurricane force winds, anyone outside after 3 pm faces the risk of unlawful arrest by PBSO deputies and prosecution by State Attorney Dave Aronberg. If you’re thinking of suing, they will probably be immune from civil suit.
We did reach out to county commissioners Mary Lou Berger and Steven Abrams, who purportedly represent West Boca, for clarification. Neither responded.