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South FL woman: Cop warned me not to wear condo-themed Halloween costume or be cited for ‘unlawful’ protest

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A Florida woman was allegedly told by local police not to wear a planned Halloween costume or she would be deemed a protester, and fined or even sent to jail.

When Catherine Uden picked out her Halloween costume, which resembles a condo tower, she probably wasn’t expecting to hear from the police. Uden isn’t a fan of a plan of a local condo building project, and integrated a mocking take on it as part of her Halloween costume for Hollywood, Florida’s Hollyweird Halloween block party.

There’s no disputing that Uden has been a vocal and prominent critic of a local developer’s plan to build a 30-story condo on beachfront land. Currently, the land has a park and a community center. Since the land is publicly owned, a vote by city commissioners will be held later this year to decide on the matter.

Uden had reportedly told friends on Facebook to wear similar costumes to hers to the Hollyweird Halloween event. However, as Uden told the South Florida Sun Sentinel, a local police officer, Lt. Josh Czerenda, called and warned her not to wear the outfit, because it would be considered a protest which requires a permit. The penalty for being convicted of “unlawful demonstration” is a fine of up to $500 or even up to 60 days in jail.

“He said I could wear it but I can’t tell anyone why I’m wearing it,” Uden said. “He said if I told anyone why I was wearing a condo costume it would be an unlawful protest. I was shocked.”

Upon receiving the warning, she was indignant: “I don’t consider it a demonstration and that’s why I didn’t apply for a permit.” When Uden requested the officer to send her his warning in writing via email, the promised email reportedly never arrived.

Hollywood Police spokeswoman Deanna Bettineschi said via email that Uden needed the permit, calling her costume – and urging others to wear similar ones- a “planned protest march.”

There was a public outcry over what was alleged by many to be heavily biased police priorities and possibly a First Amendment violation by authorities:

Uden herself commented on a lack of communication from the police about the matter and why she specifically was called and warned:

Uden did end up wearing her condo costume to the party anyway, and was not arrested, according to her Twitter feed:

Constitutional law professor Bob Jarvis at Nova Southeastern University expressed skepticism about whether the police ever really had the means to carry out their threat: “The police are on very shaky ground. There is no reason to think she is inciting anyone or that she will be starting a riot,” he told the South Florida Sun Sentinel.

Regardless, the costume party went off without incident and Uden was never charged.

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