NEW SMYRNA BEACH -- Meet Robert Lee Freeman, the exception to the rule when it comes to city cops enforcing the open container law. It's ironic that the word "free" is a part of his last name considering he was charged with being in possession of an open container of alcohol in public.
His arrest on Dec. 1 at the foot of the North Causeway Bridge is a rarity in this seaside city where half a dozen bars on Flagler are active until the pre-dawn hours most nights, though nowhere asjammed with patrons as tonight.
But should the 59-year-old Freeman do the same thing after 9 tonight or well into the overnight hours, his chances of being taken to jail would be slim or none, based on past events. After all, it's New Year's Eve and the party's on Flagler.
Headline Surfer photos by Henry Frederick / New Year;'s eve revelers walk on Flagler Avenue with open containers of beer on New Year's Eve this past year with no fear of arrest.
With several thousand revelers expected on the avenue for the 9 p.m. fireworks sponsored by the Merchants of Flagler Avenue and subsidized by the city through its CRA, the city will be lucky if it has even half a dozen cops available.
When Headline Surfer started documenting with video the public drinking on Flagler in 2011, with the CRA-funded street parties, several of the bar owners told city commissioners the 24/7 Internet newspaper lured patrons from the bars and onto the public, even as the videos showed otherwise.
Then all hell broke lose last New Year's Eve with countless adult revelers captured on video walking up and down the avenue, even in the midst of families with small children, carrying and consuming alcohol in plastic cups from inside bars and even bottles of beer.
Trash cans filled to the top with discarded cardboard beer containers and crushed cans show alcohol is brought onto the street by patrons from their nearby homes or their vehicles if not living nearby.
.It was even more pronounced during the later Mardi Gras parade, which featured a big Budweiser float. Several beachside residents like Deb Dugas brought their concerns directly to the city commission in public participation only to receive a "thank you" at the end of the allotted three minutes from Mayor Adam Barringer, himself an admitted DUI offender at an early driving age and the owner of two restaurant wine bars -- the SoNapa on Third Avenue and in Maitland.
Commissioners Judy Reiker, Jack Grasty and then-Commissioners Lynne Plaskett and Jim Hathaway, who didn't seek re-election this year, never said a word publicly.
This older gentleman has no fear of arrest, holding his beer in one hand wghile talking on the hios cell phone in his other hand right on the sidewalk on Flagler Avenue during New Year's Eve.
City Manager Pam Brangaccio made a brief reference several months ago to encouraging more vigorous enforcement, but didn't elaborate, and Chief Ronald Pagano, who is retiring at year's end, has remained silent as well and has not returned Headline Surfer's recurring inquiries for comment.
Five days after Headline Surfer's stories from the last New Year's party started trending in the Google News Directories for New Smyrna Beach and climbing rapidly to the top of the major online search engines Bing and Yahoo, in addition to Google, the police department finally responded through then-Lt. Michael Brouillette, the department's public information officer.
"If they see a violation they take action," police spokesman Lt. Mike Brouilette insisted in a telephone interview the morning of Jan. 5, "whether that is to write a ticket or make them pour out the alcohol."
Brouilette, since promoted to captain and named by the city manager last month to take over for Pagano as interim chief, beginning Tuesday, refused to change his statement, even as he was reminded of the video footage captured New Year's Eve and well into the morning of patrons walking in and out with beer purchased from inside.
In fact, at one point in one of two videos shot that night and published during the New Year's party on Flagler, Headline Surfer confronted several cops who were literally within 10 yards of two people who stepped out of the Om Bar and stood side by side on the public sidewalk, each holding a glass mug with beer.
The photo at left shows a man and a woman standing outside the Om Bar on Flagler Avenue during the overnight New Year's celebration. They were allowed to continue drinking until Headline Surfer approached several cops just a short distance away and asked rhetorically if it was Ok for them to be drinking on the public sidewalk. One of the offers then approached them and asked them to take their beers inside, which they did. The interaction is shown in the video clip. The officer didn't arrest them on a charge of carrying an open container of alcohol, a misdemeanor nor did he make them empty out their glass mugs as the NSBPD's PIO said was protocol five days later in finally responding to media requests for clarification on enforcement.
The mugs are considered "deadly missiles" in cop jargon, because of the potential for serious injury or even death, if thrown with a direct strike at someone's head. The dialogue went like this: Headline Surfer: "Hello gentlemen."
First cop: "How's it going?"
Second cop allowed: "Hey Henry Frederick, how's it going man?"
Headline Surfer? "Is it OK that people are drinking right now in front of the Om Bar in front with alcohol?"
Second cop: "No, we'll go over and we'll talk to them."
The cop did just that almost immediately, but he didn't arrest them or even issue a citation. And at the very least, they weren't ordered to empty the beer from the mugs as Brouillette insisted was the protocol, after the fact when he finally responded five days later.
The man and women were allowed to step back inside and then the cop spent several minutes talking to the bouncer before walking away.