Board Certified* 

 Criminal Trial


Thomas E. Cushman, P.A., Attorney at Law


Freedom of Speech Prevails:

NOT GUILTY on All Charges

- May 29th, 2014 -

"The freedom of individuals verbally to oppose or challenge police action without thereby risking arrest is one of the principal characteristics by which we distinguish a free nation from a police state." -- United States Supreme Court, City of Houston, Tex. v. Hill, 482 U.S. 451, 462-63 (1987).

A former Ponte Vedra woman has been found “not guilty” in a case involving significant free speech issues. The Defendant had been arrested for Disorderly Conduct and Resisting Arrest by St. Johns County Deputy Corporal Earl Edenfield in July of last year.  She had waived her right to be present at the trial, and was tried in absentia.

According to police reports and trial testimony, the woman had been referred back to the Sheriff’s Office by the State Attorney’s Office for further investigation of her complaints.  She had previously reported being thrown down a flight of stairs by a man at her apartment complex in Ponte Vedra.  She had filed a police report earlier in the month, and had gone to the State Attorney’s Office to check the status of the complaint. After having been referred back to the Sheriff’s Office, she was then interviewed in a conference room by Cpl. Edenfield and Deputy Jeremy Banks.

Deputy Edenfield wrote in his report that he provided the Defendant with a detailed explanation as to why he would not be filing charges.  The report indicated that she had “become agitated” and she expressed her feelings in a profane manner. At that point, the woman picked up her papers and left the conference room.  Edenfield’s report indicated that as she walked across the small lobby “she stated something” that included more profanity. Edenfield’s report shows that he observed a mother with 3 small children in the lobby who had heard her comments. His report states that he asked the mother if her children were “okay”, and that she said that they were.  She also said that she found the language to be “offensive” and said that her actions had startled the children and frightened her oldest son.  Edenfield’s report says that he then exited the building and approached her. Edenfield wrote that he told her that her actions and the foul language she used inside the lobby were “unacceptable in front of the lady and the small children”.  She then walked towards the parking lot.  

Near the edge of the parking lot, Edenfield advised her that she was under arrest for disorderly conduct and her to put her hands behind her back. The report indicates that she, "attempted to turn to face me at which time I grabbed both of her arms in order to secure her and she tensed up refusing to allow me to handcuff her.” Edenfield wrote that the woman continued to struggle, so he “grabbed her with both arms”. In his testimony Edenfield said that normally in that situation he would have struck her in the throat to make the arrest.  However, this time he used a “leg sweep”.  He explained the procedure involves kicking the subject behind the ankle and sweeping their leg out from under them.  Edenfield said that as she he hit the ground he fell on top of her, and that they were face to face at that point.

On cross examination it was pointed out that the booking sheet filled out for the jail described the woman as a disabled 50 year old black female, 5’6” tall. The sheet did not describe what type of disability in question.  Edenfield said on cross examination that he had been a member of the SWAT team for 11 years and weighed over 200 pounds. He also said that he was wearing a bulletproof vest, and was carrying a firearm and a Taser. Testimony revealed that Deputy Banks had followed Edenfield out of the Sheriff’s Office to the area where Edenfield was arresting her. Banks described Edenfield’s actions against her as having “redirected her to the ground.”  In closing argument, the action was described by St. Augustine Defense Attorney, Tom Cushman, as a “body slam”. Edenfield was asked on cross examination why he felt it was necessary to arrest the woman, when he could have simply given her a summons for court for the “unacceptable” language. He replied that he had made the determination to arrest her, and that is what he did.

The trial involved intense argument by the lawyers on the issue of free speech and the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. Cushman had previously filed a Motion to Dismiss the charges, but the Court denied the motion. Nevertheless, the issue was repeatedly argued by Cushman.  He questioned Edenfield as to what type of punishment he thought should be imposed on an American citizen for saying “bad words”.  He also argued to the Court that the alleged “disorderly conduct” involved only speech, and that prosecution for “pure speech” is unconstitutional.  Cushman cited numerous United States Supreme Court cases, as well as many Florida cases to back up his position.  In argument to the Jury, Cushman said that this was one of the most important cases that had been tried at the courthouse in years.

Cushman’s argument to Judge Alexander Christine however was unsuccessful.  Christine had denied the lengthy pre-trial Motion to Dismiss the charges on the same grounds, as well as a Motion for Judgment of Acquittal when the State rested its case. Christine had taken a second Motion for Judgment of Acquittal under advisement, but had not yet rendered an Order at the time the jury returned its verdict of Not Guilty on all charges.

To make an appointment with Tom Cushman call (904) 826-0220, send an email by clicking here, or use the Contact Form.

Thomas E. Cushman, P.A.
222 San Marco Ave., Suite C, St. Augustine, Florida, 32084
Phone (904) 826-0220 - Toll Free (800) 526-0220 - Fax (904) 826-0445
Office Hours: 9am - 5pm, Monday - Friday

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