Comment: Characteristic of the press, this article doesn't go into the myriad of crooked dealings by government and the legal profession, as set forth in ANOTHER SECTION. I had discussed the possibility with the writer of engaging an attorney from another county to address it but it never materialized. I think there is little question that the Breeze, being a small paper, did not want to antagonize the "good old boy" county structure.
This paper came out in the afternoon. On the following morning in the jail lobby where I was, about 8 AM a corrections officer appeared and asked me if I had nothing to live for and wanted to die; to which I replied I had something to live for and no I didn't want to die. He then walked away reappearing a minute later with a piece of paper saying I said I had nothing to live for and wanted to die. I was then chained hand and foot and hauled off in a police van to the Ruth Cooper Mental Health Center under the Florida Baker Act. This was the first of three Baker Acts. My opinion is that the legal system wanted to get me out of the lobby so that I could not talk to members of the public about the case. The legal system was well aware of what they could do to get me out of the jail lobby; and that was to start addressing the myriad of crooked dealings about my case which they have never done to date.
As for the county employees claiming they were frightened, these statements were taken from depositions that were taken fully six months after my arrest when the legal establishment was getting increasingly worried about getting me convicted, and fit in with a long list of false accusations and charges that were made to justify my arrest and incarceration.
Alderman had no intention of giving me anything like decent representation against these prominent people. He and my first attorney, Rinard, knew perfectly well I was being held in jail for all this time (11 months) with a worthless case against me to induce me to sign a PLEA BARGAIN in order to get out of jail. And as my Friend Fred Haarbye said, when they finally gave up on getting a plea bargain out of me, including five years of probation and community control, they just dumped me out of jail with no strings attached whatsoever, free to go wherever I chose, including the County Attorney's Office and the County Commissioner's offices, where these presumably frightened secretaries were, with no restrictions. Clearly nobody was worried about any threats. And of course in the end I WASN'T CONVICTED of anything.
In the space of 11 months, a Lee County man's life underwent a dramatic transformation.
Robert Allston once owned a business and land in Fort Myers and was an active community volunteer. Today, after spending close to 11 months in the Lee County jail labeled as an indigent, he is camped out in the jail lobby.
He is also on a hunger strike. Refusing food, he says, is a passive method of protesting a crime with which he believes he is unjustly charged. After five days he was removed from the jail lobby by Fort Myers Police under an order from Judge William Nelson. but he returned Wednesday. This is the story of how a middle class seemingly normal citizen fell through the cracks and became someone many would now view as a radical.
Almost 11 months ago Allston was arrested, incarcerated and charged with threatening to kill or do bodily harm to public servants. He was released on his own recognizance Wednesday. But unlike most inmates, Allston does not savor freedom.
"I've lost everything I had: my health, my reputation, my freedom, my land," Allston said. "It doesn't matter if I put my life in danger now. I just want to get my point across."
Allston returned to the lobby of the jail with hopes that he would again be arrested. His freedom, he says, is without value until his name is cleared.
Allston is accused of threatening to build a bomb to blow up the County Attorney's Office, the result of a paper he wrote called "Notes on Institutional Corruption in the Lee County Attorney's Office. He hand delivered the paper to Assistant County Attorney David Owen and County Commissioner Ray Judah on March 23, 1994, and was arrested three days later. The Sheriff's Office retrieved no bomb.
The paper discusses Allston's effort to bring before the County Commission his petition to build a road, and the responsibility of government to citizens. And, following a quote from the English philosopher John Locke, Allston describes how he could build a pipe bomb and use it to blow up the County Attorney's Office--statements that ultimately led to his arrest.
According to court documents, Allston's paper left employees of the county Attorney and the County Commissioner offices in fear.
"It was like, "wow, this is terrible," Ann Ali, receptionist at the County Attorney's Office stated in an October 6, 1995, deposition.
Another employee's deposition reflects that she felt threatened by the document.
"It was very different than any--you know, it was... I felt that it was...there was something wrong with it. It was very detailed, it was very... I felt like it was threatening," reads the deposition of Mercedes Vergne, assistant to Commissioner Doug St. Cerny.
But Allston says his paper was not intended as a threat.
"A few paragraphs were abstracted from my editorial writing and taken out of context," he said.
"It has to be taken in the whole context. I wrote a paper to get the attention of the County."
Allston says his paper was intended to illustrate how an ordinary citizen could resort to violence when government is negligent in its duties.
He said the result of his paper--spending almost 11 months in jail--has caused his great personal loss and his hunger strike is an attempt to expedite his case.
When Allston was arrested, he owned land valued at $1.9 million with a $750,000 mortgage. From jail he was unable to pay the mortgage and the land was foreclosed in December. The land, he said, was set aside for his retirement. He intended to build a house there and sell other lots.
Allston said he cannot go on with his life until the trial and case are behind him. He is confident he will be found not guilty and also speculates that his case will offer interesting philosophical discussion for jurors. In the meantime, he said he wants to be arrested again.
"I'm considered a criminal," he said from the jail lobby. Once a criminal, always a criminal. I'll admit it sounds a bit curious for me to want to go back to jail, but I have nowhere to go. I have no money. I don't have a quarter to make a phone call now.
His former public defender and members of the jail staff tried to convince him to go to a Salvation Army shelter before he was released, but Allston refused.
"It's up to the criminal justice system to make this right, not the Salvation Army."
"Out of the goodness of my heart I've left you in the jail,"Judge Nelson told Allston at a hearing last week.
Allston had previously requested that he remain in jail because he said he has nowhere to go and his health is in poor condition.
But Nelson said he no longer wanted Allston taking up space in his jail.
Allston's friends and supporters were surprised by the judge"s decision.
"It's strange," said Fred Haarbye, a friend and former employee of Allston's.
"When they arrested him, they said he was a danger to society and set a $25,000 bond. This time they just threw him out."
Haarbye is convinced Allston's words were not meant as a threat. "He did not word it properly," Haarbye said.
"It was something he said he could do, but he would not do it. You can interpret words any way you want."
Others seemed surprised by the accusations against Allston.
Allston is talented and intelligent, although perhaps misunderstood, said former employee Joe Jakl. He describes his friend as "generous and gentle."
Jakl said Allston is a middle class citizen who became frustrated with government and wrote angry words.
Allston is involved in many community activities, his friends say.
His name is etched on a brass plaque to honor volunteers outside the Lee County Alliance of the Arts. While he owned the Map Shop in Fort Myers, he volunteered in Lee County Schools, taking maps and aerial photographs of the area for the students to study.
Allston set up a pen-pal program between students at Heights Elementary and students in Hampshire, England. The Dormouse Program encouraged British and American children to exchange ideas and information on endangered species, such as the dormouse, a rodent facing extinction in Britain. The program was arranged through the Alliance of the Arts.
Although Paul Cochrane, principal of Heights Elementary, is unfamiliar with the specifics of Allston's case, he said he was surprised to hear of Allston's incarceration.
"I really didn't think he was the type of man who would have done something like that," Cochrane said.
He did a wonderful job coordinating the program. He was very intelligent, a computer programmer, an accomplished pianist."
Friday the first day Allston began his stay in the jail lobby, a volunteer chaplain at the jail tried to convince him to choose another route. He told Allston he was a victim of "emotional incarceration" by which inmates reach the point where they become emotionally dependent on jail. He told Allston the criminal justice system is the safety net of society.
But Allston disagrees. He says he has been wronged by the criminal justice system and intends to make a statement through a hunger strike.
Many see Allston's actions as radical, but he views them as necessary. "The way I see it, it doesn't matter if I put my life in danger," Allston said of his hunger strike, "my government will never examine my case."
Allston's former public defender, Frank Alderman, III, asserted that based on a previous case, Allston would likely be found guilty and offered him a plea bargain. Allston refused a plea which would recommend he be sentenced to two years community control and three years probation.
"I wanted no part of the plea, it's an admission of guilt," Allston said.
Meanwhile Allston is awaiting word on whether Nelson has found him legal representation from outside of Lee County.
He argued that he needs outside representation for an unbiased trial because his case is against the county and involves county commissioners, attorneys and employees.
At a hearing last Wednesday, Alderman honored Allston's request.
(This) is the result of an on-going feud between Bob Allston and the county attorney's office," Alderman said.
"I believe the only way to assist Mr. Allston is to appoint somebody from outside the county."
Alderman told Nelson that "philosophical differences" prevented him from continuing to counsel Allston.
Alderman was the second defender assigned to Allston. He was in jail for three months before he heard from his public defender, Marquin Rinard, Allston said. In the next three months he saw his defender once and heard from him via mail twice. Allston requested to continue his trial pro se and defend himself.
"Neither Rinard nor Alderman were willing to address ethical issues associated with my trial," he said.
Nelson agreed to ask the county administrator, Don Stilwell, to appoint someone from a surrounding county and released Allston on his own recognizance.
Allston said it never crossed his mind that he would spend so much time in jail. He remains convinced that when tried, he will be found not guilty.
"There is no question in my mind that I'll walk out of there acquitted," he said.
"When I was arrested I thought it was all a big mistake. I thought they would release me that afternoon."
Owen, Judah and others associated with the case declined to comment as the case is still pending.