X-rated activity, dogs off leashes pushes Palm Beach homeowner to threaten to shoot people

Article Courtesy of  The Palm Beach Post

By Kimberly Miller

Published November 5, 2022


A years-long argument over public beach access escalated last month when a Palm Beach homeowner threatened to shoot people he said were trespassing on private sand, according to police.

The statement, made during a heated call to Town of Palm Beach Police by 80-year-old Robert Meister, had officers taking cover behind their patrol cars and led to Meister being temporarily hospitalized under the state’s Baker Act.


But the turmoil and frustration that preceded the Aug. 24 call, which included Meister saying “everyone is finished” and “those (expletive) people don’t belong here,” has been brewing for more than two years as a disputed stretch of beach triggers lawsuits, locked gates and new town ordinances.

The complaint by Palm Beach residents: Their once little-known beachfront has become increasingly crowded with unruly beachgoers who trespass on private property.


Earlier in the month, two amended lawsuits were filed against the Town of Palm Beach by the Condominium Association of Ocean Towers and the Warden House, and a group of multi-million dollar single-family homeowners that includes Meister.


The associations and homeowners have property west of North Ocean Boulevard that extends to portions of the beach east of the road, according to the Palm Beach County Property Appraiser.


The groups have complained since the early days of the pandemic that their once little-known beachfront has become increasingly crowded with unruly beachgoers who trespass on private property upland from the public beach, use their outdoor furniture, and more.

This u-lock is currently used to lock the gate that allows access to the beach at the intersection of Grace Trail and N Ocean Blvd.

“Lewd, indecent and unlawful behavior is occurring day and night on the private contested beach areas, and includes, littering, the trampling of dune vegetation and federally protected sea turtle nests, nudity, the exposure of sexual organs, public urination and defecation, and the unlawful use of apparent controlled substances and alcoholic beverages,” the August 9 amended complaint states.

A handful of photos added to the complaints note that attorneys have excluded the worst of the images that show “vulgar, lewd, and indecent behavior.”

The lawsuits ask for, in part, a court to declare the owners’ private property rights and force the town and police to enforce those rights.

Police, in a report about the Aug. 24 incident, said the part of beach Meister was complaining about had “previously been established to be, in fact, a public beach.”

Town of Palm Beach attorney Skip Randolph said he expects to file a response within the next two weeks to the amended complaints.

"It's a very emotional issue for the residents of that area and for some of the greater community but it's ultimately a legal issue," said Palm Beach Town Manager Kirk Blouin. "It's not unique. These types of conflicts arise all up and down the seaboard."

Stretch of beach is just north of The Breakers beachfront resort

The quarrel is over a 7-block stretch of sand from Sunset Avenue to Wells Road north of The Breakers beachfront resort.

As complaints grew in 2021 about raucous crowds, the town tried to clamp down on beach use in the area. Free parking was eliminated and gates were erected and locked between sunset and sunrise.

Paul and Daphne Flach, who have lived in Palm Beach 21 years and frequent that stretch of beach, said they thought the controversy over access had subsided as COVID restrictions were lifted on other activities and fewer people were fleeing south from northern cities.

“The seaside owners got their sunrise to sunset gate, and we locals were welcome and free to enjoy our lovely beach once again peacefully,” the couple said in an email. “Living in this community means the world to us, and we’d all be devastated by any self-inflicted violence to man, woman, child or dog.”

Leashed dogs are permitted on the beach. The original call to police Aug. 24 was made by Meister’s wife complaining there were unleashed dogs on the beach.

Part of the confusion on that stretch of sand is that unlike the town's municipal beaches at Midtown, Clarke and Phipps Ocean Park, property owners have private land along the 7-block stretch to the so-called erosion control line — a fixed point that was established before beach renourishment. Everything landward of the line can be privately owned, while the seaward side remains public, according to the lawsuits.

There is dry sand for people to use seaward of the line depending on the tides and weather. The public is always legally allowed to traverse the beach from public entrances and walk along the beach north and south.

"We are not trying to stop people from traversing the property to get to the state lands," said attorney William Moore, who is representing the associations and homeowners. "Yes, they can have access to the public beach but they can't use our portion of the beach without our permission."

Moore said the individual homeowners he represents signed temporary easements to allow for beach renourishment, but the easements specifically excluded public use. The associations signed perpetual easements, but Moore said they are invalid because they weren't signed by the correct people.

When homeowners put in posts to delineate the public beach from private property, they were cited and fined by town code enforcement officials, Moore said.

"When you look at plats back to the early 1900s that have been accepted by the state, this is property the owners purchased," Moore said.

Also confusing along the 7-block stretch is that while the public gates are locked to the beach from sunset to sunrise, the beach doesn't have specific hours when it is open and closed like the other municipal beaches. The beach also has no lifeguards, who could warn against alcohol or drug use.

Last month's incident of a gun threat wasn't the first that involved a firearm, or imitation gun, on the beach.

On June 4, a homeowner's security camera showed a teenage couple on the beach after dark and the male teenager taking what looked like a gun out of a purse and putting it under his shirt.

Police gave the couple a warning for being on the beach after the entrance gate had been locked. They did not initially know about the gun. When police followed up after seeing the video footage, the realistic-looking gun was actually a Glock Co2 airsoft gun purchased on Amazon, according to the incident report.

After the threats made Aug. 24, police asked for a “risk protection order” requiring Meister to turn over firearms and ammunition and that barred him from possessing firearms for a year. The order also includes details of an Aug. 9, 2021 incident where Meister allegedly slapped a man in the face after he left the beach for purportedly being on Meister’s private property. The man refused to press charges, police said.

Between January 2021 and late August, about 550 calls were made by Meister or his wife to police complaining of people being on their private beach “despite him being repeatedly advised that the beach is public property," according to the risk protection order.

The order stressed that Meister's proximity to the beach means he can "act immediately" and does not need to prepare for an act of violence.

"He has demonstrated a specific grievance against the public who he refers to as 'those people' and has the belief that they 'don't belong here,'" the order states.

Matthew Goldberger, who represented Meister in the risk protection case, said Meister did not admit any of the allegations made in the request, but agreed to abide by the order and voluntarily surrender one firearm.

The risk protection case was closed by the courts following the agreement, but it’s unknown how long the lawsuits against the town and its police force could continue.

Moore said he believes the town will use something called the customary use doctrine to defend its position. The doctrine basically says something that has always been in use by the public with the owner's notice should remain public.

"But the doctrine is parcel by parcel, it's tract by tract," Moore said. "You can't just say all the beaches in Florida belong to the people and land owners have no rights."