Video prompts new law enforcement policy on beaches in Holmes Beach

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Holmes Beach Police Sgt. Mike Pilato directs a family to remove a tent April 22 over beachgoers’ objections in the 3600 block of Gulf Drive on the beach. Islander Courtesy Photo: Harrison Stewart

A new policy in Holmes Beach in response to irate beachgoers will require police officers to consider a different tack when they see tents on the beach.

An incident April 22 involving a Holmes Beach police officer and a family with a tent on the beach in the 3600 block of Gulf Drive triggered the policy change.

Jennifer Lisi of Bradenton and nephew Harrison Stewart of New Jersey complained that the police officer twice asked the family to either remove the tent or leave the beach.

Stewart recorded the incident, which also showed other beachgoers protesting the officer’s request.

Lisi named HBPD Sgt. Michael Pilato in her April 22 email to The Islander.

She said the officer was patrolling on an ATV.

“During this time there were many other families with tents along the beach, but only this family was told to remove the tent,” Lisi continued.

She said Pilato’s indicated the tent interior could not be viewed from all sides.

“This is, in fact, incorrect, as the tent did not have a cover over top and the inside was clearly visible from the outside of the tent,” she wrote.

Lisi noted the officer did not take action regarding other tents on the beach.

“The family, in the end, left the beach with no physical confrontation,” she wrote. But she claimed the incident was a “racial-motivated confrontation.”

In a phone interview April 29, Stewart agreed.

Pilato was “probably” enforcing the county tent ordinance, Mayor Judy Titsworth said May 9.

“It’s a drag. Holmes Beach prides itself on being racially diverse,” she added.

Titsworth and Police Chief Bill Tokajer discussed the complaint relayed by The Islander, leading to an email from Tokajer to employees in his department.

“We find the intent of the county ordinance prohibiting tents on the beach is to prevent people from doing things that violate our ordinances, like hiding alcoholic beverages, drugs, grills, inappropriate adult behavior or pets on the beach,” Tokajer wrote.

The chief also announced: “In the future, it will be our policy, if you see a tent on the beach that is being used for shade and not for the hiding of the improper activities you will take no action.

No-camping rules

Municipalities with law enforcement departments that perform beach patrols, can also enforce Manatee County ordinances, including one that prohibits outdoor camping.

Holmes Beach police use the county ordinance as a tool to dislodge the homeless and people who violate ordinances that prohibit sleeping overnight, fires, cooking and digging on the beach.

Section 54-12 states: “Being in a tent, hut, lean-to, shack or in a temporary shelter or being asleep atop or covered by materials in a public place or private place out-of-doors without the permission and consent of the city or the property owner may be evidence of a violation but is not alone sufficient to constitute a violation of this section.

The ordinance also states for probable cause to issue a summons or make an arrest, the officer must find numerous personal belongings, evidence of a fire or cooking activities, proof of digging or earth breaking activities or a person is asleep and “when awakened states he or she has no other place to live.”

4 thoughts on “Video prompts new law enforcement policy on beaches in Holmes Beach

  1. Kathy

    We were just told by a “house keeper” on Bean Point that a new “law” was just passed and we are not allowed to sit on the beach only walk on it????
    She is a housekeeper belonging to a small house right beside a beach access.
    Does anyone know what she is taking about??
    She was rather rude.

  2. Laurel Nevans

    You could see or hear little in the video, but I would not term what I saw a “beach tent.” It looked much more like a camping tent, and I am sure there was something prohibited in the tent…quite possibly a smokable substance with a distinct odor that is not welcomed on our family friendly beaches. Visitors feel free to ignore all of our posted regulations, including no glass and no alcohol, and our quiet community beaches are looking more and more like the Jersey Shore every day. I applaud HBPD for doing a difficult job, and I highly doubt this was “racist” vs a case of folks not wanting to follow the rules. And if visitors do not want to follow the rules, they can go to one of the many other beaches where they are not enforced. As a HB tax payer, I am glad our beaches are patrolled so that they are kept safe and so that our wildlife is also protected.

  3. David Barstow

    After many years spending time on the Holmes Beach, the police ATV patrols have always bothered me. I’ve seen them drive closely past sunbathers, come to emergency stop because a child gleefully ran to the water without seeing the ATV and when there are two of them, surround beach goers because a possible violation. Because of the threats that officers now face, they all wear body armor which makes them appear even more threatening are they patrol the sand. Many years ago I was lying on the sand asleep to be awoken by an ATV 2 feet from me with the officer asking what was in the can next to me; it was a coke. I’ve seen flashing blue lights on the beach at sunsets for non emergency activity. Collectively, there presence takes away from the beauty and serenity of our beautiful beach. I would be interested in how many fines, arrests or other police activities have been recorded on the beach; Ive never seen one reported in the blotter. The tent incident and the agreed action to not enforce the rule makes me wonder if patrolling is necessary. I have yet to experience any behavior on the beach that required police action.

  4. virginia watson

    As long time visitors to AMI, we find the Barney Fife ATV patrol an obnoxious disruption to the beauty and sounds of the beach . Of course, things that go over the top should be reported to the police on a case by case basis. And if race played a factor in this incident. that would be awful.

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