The arrests of two Key Biscayne residents who defied police orders relating to wearing masks have thrown the Village’s face mask policy into focus, instantly localizing a national fight about COVID-19 rules. Village officials stood by the policy that requires everyone to mask indoors on Village property or leave the premises.
Nina Wallin and Alex Serrano were arrested after attempting to attend a heavily-attended town hall on the proposed privatization of the Rickenbacker Causeway without wearing masks, police said. Police reports state both individuals were told of the policy, were offered masks, and refused to comply with an officer’s orders. Many –but not all– residents applauded as Wallin was escorted out.
Wallin was charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest without violence, and Serrano was charged with trespass after warning and disorderly conduct. Both were released after posting bond, court records showed. Messages left for Wallin and Serrano were not returned.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has issued executive orders forbidding masking requirements, but most of the current litigation involves schools. Several local governments have insisted they still have the right to eject people who attempt to remain on government property maskless.
Two prominent criminal defense attorneys sided with police.
“If you go into a restaurant that requires a shirt and shoes and refuse to wear clothes and refuse to leave, you will rightfully get arrested,” said David Oscar Markus, who often practices in federal court. “This is no different. If there is a mask requirement, then you need to comply whether you agree or disagree.”
H. Dohn Williams, a veteran defense lawyer in Broward County, agreed. He said whether or not the mask policy survives any court challenges, compliance with a police order is usually required. “If you don’t wear a mask, you are not welcome. If you leave, there is no problem. But your refusal to leave will result in an arrest.”
In August, Village Manager Steve Williamson issued an administrative policy requiring masks for anyone indoors on Village property. Both Wallin and Serrano have appeared at council meetings to speak against the rules. A spokesperson for the State Attorney’s Office said that while trespass, disorderly conduct, and resisting arrest cases are common, the agency does not track cases related to mask rules, and there was no information about whether there were similar cases in other municipalities.
Compliance, however, has not been perfectly uniform. At last night’s Rickenbacker meeting at the Community Center, several County speakers briefly removed masks so that they could be better heard by the audience. And at Tuesday’s budget hearing, some speakers were allowed to remove masks in the Council chamber. Some members of Council did not wear masks on the dais, and even Williamson himself went maskless at times as the evening wore on.
Mayor Mike Davey says uniformity is important, but says there is also time to make limited exceptions. “We’re doing the best we can. We have to work together.”
Key Biscayne has a very high vaccination rate, 83% of adults, and 70% for those 12 to 18, Village officials said. While Gov. DeSantis has opposed “vaccine passports,” many private and public Florida employers have required staff to be vaccinated. President Joe Biden announced a national OSHA vaccine-or-testing requirement for employers with 100 employees or more, but the workplace safety agency has not yet issued the formal rule.
Davey said the Village administration has also been discussing adopting a vaccination policy for its employees, but no decision has been made. “I would be in favor of it,” he said. “I want us to keep going on vaccines. It’s not a hoax, it’s the real thing.”
Tony Winton is the editor-in-chief of the Key Biscayne Independent and president of Miami Fourth Estate, Inc. He worked previously at The Associated Press for three decades winning multiple Edward R. Murrow awards. He was president of the News Media Guild, a journalism union, for 10 years. Born in Chicago, he is a graduate of Columbia University. His interests are photography and technology, sailing, cooking, and science fiction.