Ethics Dunce: Florida Highway Patrol

Huge Manatee

Do you recall the post last week about the brain-dead reaction of various website commenters to the Florida arrest prosecution of a man for harassing a manatee?

If they had been commenting about this incident, they would have been on firm logical and ethical ground.

Anthony Brasfield and his girlfriend shared a carefree, romantic interlude one Sunday morning in the parking lot of the Motel 6 on Dania Beach Boulevard, as they released a dozen red and silver mylar heart-shaped balloons and watched them rise, up, up, up into the air, then slowly float away, high and far, until they became tiny specks against the blue. They squeezed each other’s hands, smiled, and…got arrested by a Florida highway patrol state trooper on the spot.

Brasfield was charged with the environmental crime of helium pollution, under the Florida Air and Water Pollution Control Act.Aggravating the offense apparently was the fact that endangered marine turtle species and birds make their abode in John U. Lloyd State Park, about 1.5 miles east of the motel. The third-degree felony is punishable by up to five years in prison.

So apparently, in Florida, it is legal to sell helium balloon and to buy them, but a felony to let them go, at least as many as a dozen. The Florida Highway Patrol would have presumably shot down the old man’s house in Pixar’s “Up,” which, if the old man hadn’t been Ed Asner, would have been a tragedy.

Here was the perfect situation in which a gentle warning (at most) from the trooper would have been appropriate, and an arrest was a flagrant abuse of power. Releasing helium balloons into the air is an iconic image symbolizing freedom and innocence. If it is going to be criminalized, then the state doing so has an obligation to publicize it widely and effectively before engaging in any arrests. Permitting the sales of such balloons (I believe the various theme parks in Florida sell rather a lot of them) and then arresting unsuspecting, well-meaning citizens who let them fly off to amuse their children or themselves is the balloon equivalent of a speed trap, an “air trap,” perhaps. I do not oppose rational environmental legislation, and if helium balloon pose a real threat to the environment, fine: let’s ban them. This, however, is jack-booted environmentalism, and an atrocity against liberty and fairness.

Now, if Anthony Brasfield and his girlfriend had inflated a manatee with helium and released it, the arrest would have been warranted.

[By the way, this makes my week. I have been waiting three years to find a justification for using the “Oh the huge manatee!” meme on Ethics Alarms. I’m sorry about what happened to Mr. Brasfield, but there was this silver lining.]


Facts: Sun-Sentinel

Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work was used in any way without proper attribution, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at

25 thoughts on “Ethics Dunce: Florida Highway Patrol

  1. Then what are you supposed to do with the balloons? The helium leaks out whether you release them or not. So, it is legal to sell them, but not legal to possess them? That is the level of rationality I have come to expect from environmental activists. It could only have been better if the officer had offered the balloon to a small child and then arrested the child when he accepted it.

  2. Interesting. I wonder if the trooper would have given the same attention to balloonists who often send up helium balloons (called a “pi ball”) to observe wind patterns before they launch. Kudos to the meter maid for even knowing this rather obscure law, but is it enforced with the same vigorousness?
    Of the law, I think there is a flaw, “Rita.”

  3. The law is presumably based on the fact that the balloon is made of Mylar, a non-biodegradable material, not that this is “helium pollution”.

    • Maybe, but that makes no sense either. Where’s the pollution until the balloons land? There is helium pollution; I assumed that because that’s what one of the new reports implied. What if the balloons landed in Georgia? Why is Mylar worse than regular rubber balloons?

      It really doesn’t matter what the supposed pollutant is, does it? Arresting people for innocently letting go of helium balloons is an abuse of power and discretion.

      • Andrew: Here’s the link—you try to make sense out of it—I don’t have that long to live. Since the law he was charged under referred to Air and Water pollution, and the balloons went into the air, I thought it was reasonable to assume the theory was the air was being polluted, and Mylar isn’t an air pollutant. No water appears to be involved.

        • I gather its akin to littering. The balloons will inevitably land, and could be ingested by some animals. I could see him being issued a citation, but an arrest seems a little extreme.

          • Does anyone have any conception of how many weather balloons alone must launched every year? The sum total must be astronomical. Eventually, all those balloons come to Earth; either by bursting with altitude or by inevitable leakage over time. Party balloons are being released or lost all the time. Since when has any of this been deemed some sort of ecological hazard?

            Only in the minds of environmentalists who will seize on any pretext to exercise power over others, no matter how ridiculous that pretext might be on the face of it. That includes, apparently, ruining romantic interludes and, quite possibly, children’s parties as the capstone for a cop’s productive day in service to Gaia.

            Of course, any question of helium being a “pollutant gas” is patently absurd. Helium is a non-reacting gas which is not only harmless (as long as sufficient oxygen is also present!) but which, due to its lightness, rises to the upper levels of the atmosphere and is eventually lost into space.

            Allow me a suggestion, here. Issue HYDROGEN balloons instead and mandate that each one come with a little time-delayed fuse at the balloon’s nozzle. Upon release, the balloon would be given about a minute to soar prettily into the sky… then destroy itself spectacularly while yet in sight. But at a safe distance! Thus a man can not only demonstrate his “ucka-ucka burnin’ love” for his current soulmate, but likewise incinerate any yucky plastic that Mickey the Manatee might carelessly ingest.

            After all, there wasn’t much left of a huge balloon of this general type called The Hindenburg”!

  4. Releasing balloons while Black?

    Anyway, it’s a 3rd degree Felony, not a mere misdemeanor.

    The charge should not be willful pollution, but negligent.
    (1) It shall be a violation of this chapter, and it shall be prohibited for any person:

    (a) To cause pollution, except as otherwise provided in this chapter, so as to harm or injure human health or welfare, animal, plant, or aquatic life or property.

    (3) Any person who willfully commits a violation specified in paragraph (1)(a) is guilty of a felony of the third degree punishable as provided in ss. 775.082(3)(d) and 775.083(1)(g) by a fine of not more than $50,000 or by imprisonment for 5 years, or by both, for each offense. Each day during any portion of which such violation occurs constitutes a separate offense.

    (4) Any person who commits a violation specified in paragraph (1)(a) due to reckless indifference or gross careless disregard is guilty of a misdemeanor of the second degree, punishable as provided in ss. 775.082(4)(b) and 775.083(1)(g) by a fine of not more than $5,000 or by 60 days in jail, or by both, for each offense.

    7) “Pollution” is the presence in the outdoor atmosphere or waters of the state of any substances, contaminants, noise, or manmade or human-induced impairment of air or waters or alteration of the chemical, physical, biological, or radiological integrity of air or water in quantities or at levels which are or may be potentially harmful or injurious to human health or welfare, animal or plant life, or property or which unreasonably interfere with the enjoyment of life or property, including outdoor recreation unless authorized by applicable law.

  5. So…you’re saying that big venues such as a Miami Dolphin’s home game has never (since this law has been on the books) released a flurry of inflated balloons? The Broncos do it in Colorado, so I’d be interested to see if that law has prevented the Dolphins or other college team from doing it.

    • It’s all about selective enforcement.

      You make pretty much everything illegal, but don’t enforce the laws in 99% of occasions. Then, you can selectively target anyone who you wish to, and you’re just “enforcing the law”.

      Often, that’s no big deal, because the prosecutor will drop the charge for being ridiculous. It’s an inconvenience, no more.

      BUT.. if the prosecutor has a jones for the target, then there’s another profitable slave for the prison-industry

      A lot of Black kids are deliberately not taking IT as a profession, because that apparently increases the chances they’ll be put away for a long time. Not a lot of profit in unskilled furniture-making, but programmers in prison make a fortune for their owners.

      Yes,it *has* got that bad. You have 20% of the world’s prison population in the US, many of them in private prisons. It’s still the exception rather than the rule, but that’s changing. Firms are starting to move operations from Mexico to just over the border into the US, as prison labor’s much cheaper.

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