free dog lady

“Free Dog Lady!” / Local Resort Uses Police To Grab Public Land

Article by JD Adler, Video by Arnaud Girard and Naja Girard….

Free Dog Lady!

dog lady and the revivalists
Kelsey, Mali the dog, and the Revivalist

Saturday, February 7th, 2015: Key West native and charter boat captain, Kelsey Haas, heads to the Ocean Key Resort & Spa with her dog Mali to see one of her favorite bands, The Revivalists, perform on Sunset Pier at the foot of Duval Street. The band, transfixed by the cute little doggie, invites her onto the stage. After dancing for a few joyful minutes, Kelsey and Mali return to the floor. Facing the stage, she suddenly finds Officer Janeth Calvert, working off-duty as security, grabbing her from behind and demanding she leave the “VIP-only” section.

According to Kelsey, Mali was knocked loose from Kelsey’s arm, skittering across the wooden deck and Kelsey reached out for her companion. Calvert maintains in her report that Kelsey pulled away and resisted, justifying the rough takedown that followed, “I then grabbed her by her right arm and took her to the ground with a straight arm-bar takedown. Haas went straight to the ground. During the takedown, Haas scuffed both of her knees on the wooden pier.”  Kelsey is cuffed, and dragged through the crowd by three officers of the KWPD where she sits, embarrassed in hand-cuffs, at the entrance of the crowded resort.

The band stops playing and asks if this is really necessary, reminding the officers they invited Kelsey on stage. They initiate a “Free Dog Lady!” chant that the whole crowd joins in on. Her friend and work manager, Joanne Palmieri, witnesses Kelsey in cuffs and follows. She offers to take Kelsey home, then notices the empty leash dangling from an officer’s hand and retrieves it so she can go find Mali lost somewhere in the crowd. Calvert first tells Joanne she wasn’t going to actually charge Kelsey, but later decides that Kelsey’s “resisting” made it necessary. While Joanne is speaking with the officers, a representative from the band comes up and again reminds them they had invited Kelsey on stage. This witness statement is not recorded by the KWPD. After sitting on public display in front of the hotel for an hour, Kelsey would eventually be dragged off to the Monroe County Jail and charged with Trespassing (failure to leave) and Resisting Arrest.


Off-Duty KWPD working 3/09 event at Ocean Key
Off-Duty KWPD working 3/09 event at Ocean Key

Upon further investigation, it appears that Kelsey was not “trespassing” at all. The Sunset Pier is on public land owned by the state of Florida and leased to Ocean Key.  There is history dating back to the 1980s documenting such (more detail on that in the sections below). Immediately relevant to Kelsey’s arrest is the section of the current lease which stipulates that Ocean Key must keep the pier open to the public. “29C The Dock Shall be Open to the General Public at no Charge.” And Section 29G which states that they are allowed to hold 12 “private events” per year, and 1 public, for charity event per month.

click to enlarge
29G click to enlarge

The example given in the lease agreement for a private event is “weddings”. I asked the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (the agency in charge of the leasehold) if a concert like this fell under the terms of the lease. I was told, “Assuming that this music concert is a “Public Event” as defined by the Lease, within the leased premises, all public events should be charitable.” Considering that any member of the public was allowed to buy a ticket, which is not typical of a wedding, this would seem to fit the definition of a “public event”, however the Revivalists did not play for a charity that evening. Upon discovering that during the years when Ocean Key did report properly, they listed concerts attended by the general public as “private events”, I checked with the DEP to see if that was a valid classification under the lease. They responded, “Generally, the interpretation would likely be that a concert that was open to the general public, which anyone could purchase tickets to would not qualify as a private event.”

Sunset Pier
Sunset Pier, Public Land, Ocean Key Hotel in background

This is only one part of the story. What began with an investigation into whether or not it was appropriate to arrest this Key West resident for trespassing on public land appears to have opened up the proverbial can of worms.

Follow the Money

The lease also requires that any time there are events on the pier, Ocean Key must provide the state with advance notice, an accounting within 14 days, and for private events, a check for 10% of gross sales within 10 days after that. I asked the DEP if this had been occurring and was told, “Our files don’t include any such records from the last 2 years, but attached are some Special Event Notifications and Financial Records provided to the department from approximately 2008 – 2012.”  

The current general manager, Matt Trahan, is named in some of those reports, dating back before his current promotion in 2012, so it would appear he is familiar with the terms of the lease. We also learned from these records that Ocean Key has referred to these for-profit concerts as “private events” in the past and that for the last two years they have not notified or paid the state for any events at all.

reporting rules click to enlarge
reporting rules click to enlarge

It would also appear that Officer Calvert, who would not be expected to know the terms of the lease, was used by the hotel to enforce what appears to be a prohibited use of a public area.  In a perfect world, one would expect the officer to inform the hotel that the pier was public land and not only defend Kelsey’s right to be there, but also prevent the hotel from charging the public for access to the pier.

In fact, Ocean Key, and its parent company Noble House (a Washington state based company with hotels, marinas and spas all over the US), earns a sizable sum of cash during these events.

2010 financial letter click to enlarge
2010 financial letter
click to enlarge

According to their own Facebook events page, Ocean Key had at least 19 non-charity concerts in 2014 alone, an apparent violation of their lease by itself which only allows for 12 “private events” per year and 1 “charity event” per month. Since these concerts appear to have been neither “charitable” nor “private” events and since the hotel did not provide the state with the required notice and portion of the revenue, it appears there may be a significant amount of money owed.

Using one event from the reports DEP provided, September 2010, as the benchmark for a rough estimate, at which they grossed $22,217.92 and paid the state $2,221.80, and multiplying that by 19 for just the year 2014 it appears the state could be owed in the neighborhood of $42,200 for 2014 alone.

Some events, of course, earn more than others. At the Feb 7, 2015 event that Kesley and Mali attended, the hotel charged the public $150 to enter a “VIP-only” section with a max capacity of 75 which amounts to $11,250 gross. In addition, the main area which could accommodate hundreds of patrons, cost $20 to enter. Drinks sold during an event can cost $6/beer, $8/mixed drink. Meanwhile other events are free to enter, but still produce concession revenue. On most days of the week there is a band playing on the pier during happy hour, bringing in additional business with enhanced sale of drinks. It is difficult to tabulate an exact accounting, but it is not impossible to reach a rough estimate of gross revenue directly resulting from these events in the hundreds of thousands.

weekly happy hour bands
weekly happy hour bands


The History

All of this dates back to a settlement of a 1984 legal dispute between former owners of the hotel property (then called “Zero Duval” or “Reflections”) and the state over ownership of the submerged lands beneath the pier.  That settlement included prohibitions against building commercial structures on the pier and blocking access to the general public. A new dispute arose in 1989 when the hotel erected commercial bar structures on the pier without obtaining permits or a lease from the state. The ’89 case resulted in $103,500 in fines, removal of the commercial structures, and the signing of a lease with the state which was most recently renewed in 2014. The settlement not only included financial remunerations but also had stipulations for use of the pier:

84 deed seetlement click to enlarge
1984 deed settlement
click to enlarge
1989 Settlement Use Stipulations Click to Enlarge
1989 Settlement Use Stipulations
Click to Enlarge

In the late 90s, Key West activist Elliot Baron, who knew all about the previous settlements with the state, went to an advertised public, for-profit event on the pier to verify how the public area was being used.  He retells the story in the following manner:

“…back in the late 1990’s I became aware that the Ocean Key House was restricting access during the races and had cordoned off the portion closest to the water, where they were charging for access ($100 per table). When I arrived, very few (if any) people were occupying the paid seating, but there were scores of people standing behind the rope. I pushed aside the rope and took a seat. After a few moments, a cocktail waitress told me that I couldn’t sit there, because it was paid seating. I told her they had no right to charge for the seating and she went off to speak to her manager. She came back and told me that if I didn’t leave, they would call the police. I told her to go ahead, but she might want to first speak to the Hotel General Manager and referenced the Court Settlement with the DNR [DNR is now DEP].  She returned after a few minutes to tell me I could stay, but I had to get out of their chair.”  [Note: It appears they nonetheless violated one of the lease stipulations by requiring Baron to give up his seat.)

After two lawsuits with the state in the 80’s, heckling from an activist in the 90’s, and what appears to be somewhat random compliance over the years; the owners of the pier at “Zero Duval” once again appear to have difficulty with the concept of public land and public rights.

General Manager, Matt Trahan, at Ocean Key was contacted multiple times to set up an interview. To date, he has not agreed.



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23 thoughts on ““Free Dog Lady!” / Local Resort Uses Police To Grab Public Land

  1. My God, what manner of madness continues to publicly manifest itself in broad daylight without consequence. One human family is such farcical nonsense.

    An innocent defenseless women slammed to the ground and injured by Key West’s finest. It is a lucrative law suit that will, along with the rulings and settlements by the city, begin to bankrupt the regime currently in power.

    Raising taxes to meet the significant increases in the city’s insurance premiums, will burden and further degrade the quality of life endured by the taxpayers who reside in Key West.

    Lacking integrity and credibility within the city government and police department, along with a populace that does not require accountability nor adherence to the law by their leadership, Constitutional Violations have become acceptable; without blush, not even given a second thought.

    Fantastic Story…Extraordinary Video & Interview…

  2. The fact of the matter is that police are paid raises and promoted based on their arrest conviction ratio.If they do not make arrest and get convictions,they get neither.They targeted this lady knowing how most people will question the order.

    I was glad the band did what they did. Who took care of this lady’s dog while she was cuffed and stuffed?? Usually the police just shoot and kill peoples dogs in a situation like this.They probably didn’t because of the crowd .. Just YOUTUBE ”’Police Shoot Dog”

  3. I just watched the vid and am mad as hell. Call and tell our prosecutor that is she doesn’t drop the phony charge that we will throw her ass out next election. Furthermore we will boycott her law practice after we throw her out.

  4. I certainly hope that the trespassing charges are dropped. It seems inherently wrong to give bouncers the authority to make arrests — even down to writing the official arrest report. At the very least, Kelsey Haas deserves an apology, but since that probably won’t be coming, she may have to settle for a financial award in Civil Court.

    Florida DEP should recover all back fees plus penalties and interest from Ocean Key House, who apparently withheld payment with full knowledge of the violation. These fees were intended to improve Monroe County parks, so the entire public are victims of this apparent fraud.

    I am surprised that there is no comment from the Key West Police Department. Maybe they should review their policy of selling selective enforcement to the highest bidder.

  5. Nothing surprises me with the KW police department. They don’t care about the rules of law. They are very lucky the crowd didn’t go after them as crowds have been noted to do that. I’m surprised one of the officers didn’t slap on a charge for their finger nail being broken. In another part of the country a guy who got beat up many times while in police custody INNOCENTLY had one charge for breaking an officer’s fist with his face…..true story.

  6. Janeth Calvert…a name from the recent infamous past as in the charles eimers case. one of the kw police thugs named in the unfortunately now settled before full discovery charles eimers law suit. looks like another lying cop thugette rides again.

    ms haas you have a really great lawsuit against the ocean key resort and would seem the city of key west since the cops were in official police uniform. hey! chief of police…have you gone off somewhere sleeping again? when the cops ‘moonlight’ in full uniform and apparently carry their handcuffs are they also armed with their service weapon? since ms haas was charged then it follows that calvert was on duty as a city of key west cop. time for calvert to be FIRED and charged as a felon for filing a false police report! oops never mind i forgot the chief is sleeping.

    1. actually, surprisingly enough, the KWPD have an entire policy involving off duty police security work that allows those interested in hiring to contact the proper dept. and hire them. they are allowed to wear uniforms etc. the officer can’t process but does need to file the report as off-duty. In this case, Calvert was within policy on those points. (believe me I asked for and read the policy) Though the nature of the take down may be a different conversation.

      however, if all is as it seems with Ocean Key not properly adhering to the lease with the state, then their use of the police to enforce those choices may turn out to be a more serious problem.

  7. She’s lucky she wasn’t tazered. But seriously, the School Board nor the County collect the user fees to which they’re entitled and now Balfour Beatty doesn’t have to pay its taxes either. I guess it’s easier to just keep raising the taxes on the citizenry. Less paperwork.

  8. She is very lucky that thug lovette was not there or she would likely be dead. Well Key West you did it again and can say goodbye to another million. And to the hotel you will have an opening soon for a manager. And yes a lawsuit as well. A sharp lawyer will do a class action suit on the money they were charging illegally. Some one needs to wake the chief up. That cop should be charged with assault and end her job as a cop and maybe serve some time. I see many issues here like who did she resist ? a cop or a security guard. Not to sure what laws were broke if not in a uniform marked SECURITY . Then is the issue of using a KWPD uniform for private work. Lawyers will love this case because can go after KWPD, the cop and the hotel.
    And they can count on the loss of business. Why did a security officer need to grab her at all ? A simple we need you to move would have worked. And then the real problem is she did not need to move because she was on public property. WOW Key West is gone crazy and sure hurting tourist business .
    Each Friday I can’t wait to see what the KWPD does wrong. Great paper that is not scared to print the news.

  9. Surely there are some private security firms in KW. I suggest all should boycott any event that hires KW policemen for security. Those locals that are upset with the actions/police brutality by the KW police should LEGALLY do what they can to tell the citizenry of these wrongdoings. Word of mouth seems to be the only way the pressure can be put on the local police and to get all of the locals involved. Businesses just don’t understand that we tourist are watching what is going on in KW and have already started boycotting for their own SAFETY. Key West is slowly becoming known as “Paradise in Hell”.

  10. That isn’t all. There now also is police turning back homeless or homeless looking people from the “private” sections of Mallory square, the cruiseship pier. Whether or not it is private property, it is open to the public, has businesses as well as the catman show. They should never have zoning laws that allow businesses to deny access to the very pavement of an outdoor square. Besides, it’s blatant discrimination but I hear no outcry.

      1. Really? Ok…

        In my mind I imagined the scene of the arrest similar to the scene in The Wizard of Oz…and I think it’s pretty accurate. Only offense intended is toward the Witch who arrested Kelsey.

  11. I do hope she has hired a layer. The only way KWPD will change is by victims fighting back. Sue them every time they screw up and here lately that is often. When tax payers get tired of paying the price they will vote the problem away. You need to pressure chief Lee to resign. He either can’t or won’t control his force.

    1. sorry to say it will be a cold day in hell when the ‘political’ chief resigns his high buck and profile strutting job as the ‘chief’ of key west other then a fat retirement pension. his political ambition showed clear a couple of years back when he singularly went on the quest to have the city commission vote a resolution for the banning of the popular ar15 rifle after sandy hook. and to think he took an oath to uphold the constitution of this country minus the 2nd amendment of course. just another phony flapping pie hole trough feeder who obviously has no control on the out of control faction under ‘his’ leadership as witnessed by the current story and especially the aftermath of the eimers case which was a huge eye opener to the thuggery of ‘his’ department and his obvious wink n nod attitude of move along nothing to see here folks!

  12. I wish all of the locals would view the video deposition of the police chief on the Elmers case. He looked like a complete idiot trying to defend the killing of Charles Elmers by his thugs. But, I guess he did get the last laugh as nothing will be done unless the locals band together to tun the crooks out of town. He does seem to me that they went from attacking the tourist to now attacking the locals.

    1. He is not complete yet but he is working on it. Is anyone surprised that he would try to defend them ? He knows they are thugs, liers and killers but does not want to change anything. Why has he not fired Lovette ? Just maybe he is scared of him or what his other officers might know and do in retaliation.Yes it is up to the locals to change the KWPD. They will need to wait till election time and if smart boot all of them out of office. The KWPD is not looking too good to tourists. And for one I will do my best to get the word out about the truth. When tourists stop spending money in the keys maybe they will wake up. I now feel a bit scared to be in Key West, not because of the locals but because of the KWPD. They used uneeded force on The Dog Lady and do hope she goes after them. No she won’t get any huge settlement but it will get attention. As to that hotel they need sued and I will not spend any money on them.

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