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Village put on notice for possible lawsuit over COVID-19 mask arrests

Two Key Biscayne residents formally notified the Village of Key Biscayne they intend to claim monetary damages for their arrests last year after they refused to put on facial coverings at a community meeting. 

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No lawsuit has been filed yet, said attorney Ben Kuehne. But he said a lawsuit “is being contemplated to hold these officials accountable for their purposeful, intentional efforts to humiliate and harm two law-abiding participating citizens from being a part of the public process.” 

The notice was sent last week on behalf of Alex Serrano and Nina Wallin, who were charged with trespass after warning and other offenses. They were arrested at the Community Center on Sept. 22 at a crowded government-sponsored community meeting about the Rickenbacker Causeway with top Miami-Dade County officials in attendance. Many applauded when Key Biscayne officers made the removal. 

The State Attorney’s Office dropped the case earlier this year, saying that executive orders issued by Gov. Ron DeSantis left them without a legal basis to continue the prosecution. The governor’s orders wiped out any punishment for mask violations.  

Kuehne’s letter says that because of those orders, the Village and its officers either knew or should have known that arresting the two was unlawful. 

A six-month pre-suit notice is required by Florida law in civil claims against the government. Village Attorney Chad Friedman confirmed the Village had received the notice, but declined comment. 

Kuehne said he hoped the Village would work to “resolve this matter in the best interests of the citizens of Key Biscayne” but declined to say what exact relief his clients were seeking. He would not rule out, however, a federal civil rights claim against the Village. 

Kuehne, a nationally-known criminal defense lawyer, is one of the  lead attorneys in a federal civil rights suit filed against Fort Lauderdale May 31 by LaToya Ratlieff, a demonstrator who was shot in the face with a rubber bullet during protests over the killing of George Floyd. 

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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.

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