DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- The First Amendment of the US Constitution means little in reality when a small media outlet like ours does not have the money or political clout to secure pro bono services of a lawyer to file a lawsuit to fight the abuses of an elected politician, especially one with a gun, a badge and the verbal vitriol of Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood, who has held the offce since Jan. 1.
In in that span of 215 days, Chitwood's draconian policies of singling out Headline Surfer® for exclusion: Immediate removed from the law enforcement agency's email media alerts on breaking news and updates, an outright ban on attending agency press conferences and the media outlet's two staffers names crossed off the agency's list for working press credentials.
With Chitwood's edicts that carry a threat of arrest and jailing, Headline Surfer's movements are severely restricted, its ability to report the news on a level playing field have been non-existent and its overall mission of news reporting and generating advertising revenue compromised.
What prompted this and what's being done to stop Chitwood?
Consider these factual allegations:
• Chitwood has excluded Headline Surfer from the Volusia Ciunty Sheriff's Office's email media alerts for breaking news, notives of agency press conferences and updates on major incidents. That ban has been in effect since Jan. 1, and it applies only to Headline Surfer among the regular news outlets that gather news in Volusia County on a daily basis. Headline Surfer had been among the key news outlets receiving the email alerts for nearly nne years under the previous sheriff, Ben Johnson, whose last day in office was Dec. 31, 2016.
• Chitwood has actually "banned" Headline Surfer from the VCSO's ptress conferences, under threat of arrest and jailing, though he, himself has not said it. The threat was intimated by one of his PIOs on Jan. 3. Again, the banning applies only to Headline Surfer, with the first such press conference on Jan. 3, just two days after Chitwood took office.
• Headline Surfer is the only media outlet not provided with "working press" credentials.
Editor's Note: This is being updated.