Gainesville City Manager defends arrest of man at meeting: ‘We gave him ample opportunity’

Published: Feb. 4, 2021 at 11:24 PM EST
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. (WCJB) - A local man arrested after removing his mask and refusing to leave the Gainesville City Commission meeting.

Ray Washington took off his mask while speaking at the public comment podium. Mayor Lauren Poe asked him to put his mask back on but he refused. That prompted Mayor Poe to adjourn the meeting. The incident led to Washington being trespassed from Gainesville City Hall and eventually led out in handcuffs after refusing to leave.

“We gave him ample opportunity to comply he chose not to,” said City Manager Lee Feldman. “Ultimately, we needed to have the meeting go on. We had to remove him from the building.”

Gainesville resident Nathan Skop was in attendance at the meeting believes Mayor Poe is partly at fault.

“I think we can all thank Mayor Poe for Mr. Washington having to unjustly spend the night in jail. The mayor could have granted a reasonable accommodation and allowed Mr. Washington to continue speaking.”

According to Feldman, the video cut out at the city commission meeting before Washington was arrested because the meeting was adjourned, and that is when Skop began recording. Skop sent the video to TV20, and in it, you can see Washington surrounded by two Gainesville Police Officers along with the City Manager.

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He said taking a mask off to speak is not uncommon.

“President Biden takes his mask off when he speaks. The Press Secretary for the President substantially younger than Mr. Washington; she routinely takes her mask off when she speaks. It is common practice. Apparently, that is not tolerated for King Mayor Poe.”

Feldman said the requirement to wear a mask is for all individuals’ health and safety, and Washington broke that rule.

“I hope that everybody understands the city is not trying to be punitive. We are trying to be protective. We want people to participate in their government, but we want to do this responsibly. We are in a pandemic; we are in the eleventh month of the pandemic. We need to make sure we are promoting as much of the proper guidance as there is out there. When you start making exceptions, credibility goes away.”

The City Manager said he is not interested in pursuing charges in a case like this one, but ultimately it is up to the State Attorney’s Office. He said if Washington was not able to wear a mask because of medical reasons, he had the option of appearing through the virtual format.

Washington will remain behind bars at the Alachua County Jail until he has his first appearance and posts bail.

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