(HIGH SPRINGS HERALD) The local chapter of the Lions Club held a 4-day charity concert starting on Thursday, Sept. 24, that was supposed to raise funds to help those with visual and hearing impairments.
The club ended up losing money from the event, with members of the Lions Club attributing the loss in part to High Springs’ police officers showing up multiple times and scaring off many of the patrons.
“They felt what they did was necessary,” said Brian Barkman, president of the High Springs Lions Club. “We felt that it may have been a little bit extreme.”
The tipping point for some in attendance was when officers walked through the private property and came out of the woods in vests and shining flashlights, according to Barkman.
“Their presence was fine,” Barkman said. “But when they actually came through the woods with flashlights and their vests on and their hands on their guns, I think it turned [concert goers] off. They weren’t about to stay there for the weekend. They didn’t know how many more times that was going to occur.”
High Springs Police Chief Jim Troiano said his officers did nothing wrong and things are being “blown way out of proportion.”
“We didn’t have eight uniformed police officers,” Troiano said. “We don’t have riot gear, and we don’t have SWAT gear. This is not the case.”
Troiano said officers had suspicions drugs would be consumed at the concert due to information received about drug use at earlier concerts.
Troiano said there were up to five uniformed officers at one point, including a sheriff’s deputy. He said those officers were called as back up to a disturbance that had to do with a drunk security guard and a noise complaint.
According to Troiano, officers smelled marijuana at the event, but those suspected of using drugs dispersed when police approached. No arrests were made at the concert.
Troiano said he was asked by the Lions Club to have officers on patrol at the concert. Troiano said a few undercover officers were also present.
Barkman said the club did not request police officers because he felt things were under control with about 10 privately hired security officers already at the concert.
Even though nobody was arrested, people in attendance left the concert and told their friends not to come, said Andy Braley, a Lions Club member.
About 200 people showed up on a weekend the club was expecting about 1,000 people to attend, Braley said.
Troiano disputed the claim that police presence scared anyone off.
“We by no means, shape or form, went out there to deter anyone from coming out there,” Troiano said.
But people still felt intimidated by the police presence.
“It was uncalled for,” Braley said. “Absolutely intimidating. I’m still trying to heal emotionally from it.”
Fellow member and treasurer of the club, Shawna Kozan, echoed that sentiment.
“It was very upsetting,” said Kozan, who noted that the group had a city issued noise permit to play until 1 a.m. and felt the repeated trips by police to the concert were unnecessary.
Brian Pritchard, who decided to attend the concert because friends told him good music would be playing, said he felt the large police presence affected people’s ability to enjoy the concert.
“They clearly violated the rights of a lot of people that night by their overwhelming show of force,” Pritchard said. “If you bring the FBI into a rock concert, guess what? They’re going to be the only ones there.”
Pritchard noted that even though nobody was doing anything illegal, the presence of several police officers can make people feel uncomfortable.
“Would you go out to a bar and drink and hang out with friends if a cop was sitting next to you, watching you?” Pritchard said.
The end result for the Lions Club was lost funds on a weekend the club expected to make money to donate to the many clubs they sponsor.
“It was heartbreaking,” said Braley, who provided a lot of the money for the concert up front. “As much time and effort as we put in for a fundraiser to fill our food pantry and to put money back in our account because we have numerous requests for eyeglasses from kids and old people that don’t have them. It just wanted to make me cry.”
Although Barkman felt that what happened was unintentional, he was still disappointed at the outcome.
“The chief thought that he was doing right,” Barkman said. “We thought we were doing right. It’s just a shame that the results turned out the way they did.”
Lions Club members will be at the City Hall meeting on Thursday night to talk with commissioners, hoping to receive answers about what happened.
“The only thing we want to know is if this is a standard practice,” Barkman said, “and we have to look forward to this every time we have an event or if they are satisfied now that there are no illegal activities going on there. We’re a family oriented club.”
Troiano said he is ready to shine light on any of those issues.
“I stand prepared to answer anybody’s questions and to answer them truthfully as I have in the past,” he said.