Lake Placid, Fla. - Some residents in a Highlands County neighborhood can't understand why authorities have decided to cancel an annual Easter celebration, that they call a big backyard barbecue and family reunion. Officials with the sheriff's office though said the gathering had gotten out of hand and became a public safety issue.
Since at least 1998, the event has taken place in the Highway Park Community, near Lake Placid. Within the past 3-4 years, it's grown to about 3,000 people because of people promoting it. Authorities said working together with the community and county officials, they decided the event will be postponed until next year.
However, some residents say they will still show up to the celebration.
"We're going to come out here and peacefully do what we've been doing," said resident and event organizer, Onterial Clark.
According to Sheriff Susan Benton, the event has turned into a public safety issue because of vendors, blocked streets, and crowds.
"It's totally contrary to the county's code," said Sheriff Benton.
She's also concerned about the loud music and the apparent marijuana usage at the event.
"As the chief law enforcement officer, you can't just sit back and watch this unfold. Because the first child that gets trampled, the first gunshot that goes off and strays, we're responsible," Sheriff Benton added.
Sheriff Benton said the department also spent $14,000 last year on dozens of deputies for the block party.
"What it amounts to is the taxpayers are paying for these folks to have a party and have free security," she said.
According to Clark though, there have never been any fights or arrests.
"It's obvious that public safety is an issue and we want public safety. But we just have a consistency of keeping the peace," said Clark.
He added, the residents are not breaking any laws because the county doesn't issue vending or DJ permits and doesn't have an ordinance for public events.
"We respect the law and we don't have a problem with her enforcing the law, but being there's no county ordinance, what are you standing on," said Clark.
He thinks this whole situation also has to do with cultural ignorance and race.
The sheriff said, absolutely not.
"That's the farthest from the truth quite frankly. I'd love for them to have a party. But they just need to do it correctly," said Sheriff Benton.
Sheriff Benton said deputies will be at the event Easter Sunday along with county code enforcement officers and will be issuing warnings and citations if necessary. She added that county officials are in the process of creating a special events ordinance that groups can apply for and receive a permit if they meet the criteria. She is willing to help organizers, so they can do things right next year.
Althea Paul, 10 News