FORT LAUDERDALE (CBS4) - Nicole Sandler, a liberal radio and internet commentator, was released from the Broward County Jail Wednesday afternoon after being locked up after speaking up at a town hall meeting in Fort Lauderdale.
Sandler, a single mother, said she went to the meeting in an attempt to question conservative Congressman Allen West about his support of proposed cuts to Medicare and Social Security benefits, and his support of tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy.
“The future of the country is at stake,” Sandler, 51, told CBS4′s Gary Nelson as she emerged from the lockup after 17 hours in custody. Two other hecklers at the Tuesday night meeting were escorted out by police, but only Sandler was arrested.
At the meeting, held at a church filled mostly with West supporters, Sandler stood up and attempted to shout a question at West. He ignored her. A police officer moved in and ordered her to leave. Sandler told the officer, “Get your hands off me,” but appeared to comply with his order. In a CBS4 News video she can be heard saying, “fine, let’s go,” as she left the hall with the police officer trailing behind.
The officer wrote that she refused repeated orders to leave the church where the meeting was being held. The officer said Sandler was disruptive in the meeting, angering some around her and causing the threat of a physical altercation to erupt. He said Sandler became “physically aggressive” with him, pushing him several times. She denies that. The video shows Sandler apparently trying to pull away from the officer, but she does not appear to push him. She was arrested after she asked him for identifying information.
Sandler said she went to the meeting as a a “constituent of Congressman West, concerned about the way the Republican party is trying to take the country.”
“I want to know that when I’m 65, I’m not going to have to worry about paying exorbitant medical bills. I want to know that my country is there for me,” she said Wednesday. “But no. It’s about taking care of the wealthy and let everyone else fend for themselves.”
Sandler said she would not have gone to the town hall meeting had she known the public would be prohibited from asking questions directly of the congressman. Questions had to be submitted in writing, then read to West by an intermediary.
A spokesperson for the congressman, Angela Sachitano, said prohibiting direct questions was a “deliberate decision in order to maintain decorum.”
As for Sandler being taken to jail, the spokesperson said, “Police made the call to make the arrest, not Congressman West.”
Sandler said that as she sat in the back of a squad car waiting to be transported to jail, West posed for photographs with police officers. She said she shouted for his help through the rear window of the police car that was rolled down slightly.
“He ignored me,” Sandler said.
Sandler said she was “mistreated and maced” while in the county jail after questioning why her release was taking so long. Her bond, $25 for violating a non-criminal municipal ordinance, was posted by a friend in the early morning hours. She was not released until at least nine hours later.
West has defended his proposals saying Medicare and Social Security cannot be sustained under the current system. As for tax cuts for business and the rich, West says they will stimulate investment and jobs.
Sandler said the conservative assault on programs for the poor, children and the elderly threatens to take the nation back to a time “before Franklin Roosevelt.”
“I spent a night in jail…for the greater good,” Sandler said. “I would do it again.”