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Where A T-Shirt Can Mean Jail Time

A certain breed of tourist will complain about almost anything, but I wonder just how many complaints the city of Daytona Beach, Florida, gets about cab drivers who are not dressed formally enough.

My guess would be zero. Yet a city ordinance dictating how taxi drivers must dress gave a local police officer the excuse he needed to confront a cabbie who had the temerity to wear a shirt without a collar – and, probably more pertinently, to answer a question in a way the officer disliked.

The Daytona Beach News-Journal reported that police officers ordered Keith Gordon out of his vehicle for allegedly blocking traffic. (Gordon disputes that this was the case.) After enduring a pat-down for weapons – he had none – Gordon protested he hadn’t done anything wrong. Body camera footage shows one of the officers reading the city ordinance requiring collared shirts and prohibiting denim shorts. Gordon, who was wearing a collared jacket over his shirt on a chilly night, grew annoyed, at which point Officer Cody Cassidy said he would “make sure [Gordon’s] driving privileges with the city get revoked.” The encounter ended with Officer James Maher writing Gordon a $100 citation.

Gordon appeared before Judge David Foxman at a hearing in May, a little more than two months later. Foxman was openly appalled that violating the city ordinance is punishable by up to a $500 fine and 60 days in county jail. “I mean, it’s like we are living in a different, in like a communist country or something,” Foxman said.

After the hearing, and Foxman’s comments, the assistant city attorney offered to cut Gordon’s fine to $50. Gordon refused to take a deal, maintaining he did nothing wrong and shouldn’t have to pay at all. On June 7, the city dropped the charges without citing a reason.

This is not the first police officer whose behavior demonstrates that he thinks the public should be seen and not heard. But in this case, Foxman’s choice to back Gordon, and to tell Daytona Beach to clean up its code so that a civil regulatory violation does not come with potential jail time, restored some sanity to a situation that had lacked it. “The city needs to do something about this where people aren’t coming facing criminal charges for this sort of thing,” Foxman said of the ordinance.

Cassidy’s threat to “personally” take Gordon’s driving privileges away had no apparent legal basis. Police Chief Craig Capri said in a recent interview that he didn’t want to “Monday morning quarterback” his officers; as far as I could find, Cassidy apparently faced no public discipline, though at a minimum he should have been made to apologize to Gordon.

Daytona Beach City Attorney Robert Jagger did not come out well in this story, either. When the News-Journal contacted Jagger for comment, he insisted it was not a criminal violation, despite the potential jail time. “These are civil violations. I can’t comment on what the judge said. I wasn’t there. They carry potential criminal penalties,” Jagger said. This is mindless babbling and, at a minimum, I suspect Jagger regrets his choice of words.

Kudos to Foxman for standing up for Gordon and to Gordon for standing up for himself. The only other person who comes out of this situation looking at all reasonable is Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick Henry, who at least acknowledged that the city code needs to be cleaned up.

Daytona Beach is a down-at-the-heels resort town that has been trying with no more than mixed success to revive itself for decades. Don’t its elected representatives have better things to worry about than whether licensed cabbies are wearing collared shirts? Can’t customers police the professionalism of drivers through the simple mechanisms of tipping and, when needed, complaints to local authorities? As Gordon and other licensed taxi drivers have pointed out, not only are the city’s rules an overreach, but they do not apply to ride-sharing service drivers, creating an inherent double standard.

Has any customer anywhere in Florida ever complained about a driver wearing shorts in our usually hot climate? The ordinance is supposedly designed to make a good impression on tourists, but a little common sense would go a long way. If a driver’s attire is legal for walking on a city-owned sidewalk, why would it not be legal for driving in a privately owned car?

Keith Gordon endured months of stress he did not deserve, but at least he did not have to pay in cash. With luck, the city will review the ordinance in question and spare other drivers the potential consequences of making the wrong fashion choice.

Larry M. Elkin is the founder and president of Palisades Hudson, and is based out of Palisades Hudson’s Fort Lauderdale, Florida headquarters. He wrote several of the chapters in the firm’s book, Looking Ahead: Life, Family, Wealth and Business After 55. His contributions include Chapter 1, “Looking Ahead When Youth Is Behind Us” and Chapter 4, “The Family Business."

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