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Fans surprised by arrests while seeking Masters tickets

Saturday, April 21, 2012 5:38 PM
Last updated 10:29 PM
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Every April, tens of thousands of people flock to Augusta to take in one of the most prestigious sporting events in the world, the Masters Tournament.

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People waited for family and friends to be released on bond April 3  outside the Richmond County jail after their arrest for violating the city's ticket scalping ordinance  STEVE CRAWFORD/FILE
STEVE CRAWFORD/FILE
People waited for family and friends to be released on bond April 3 outside the Richmond County jail after their arrest for violating the city's ticket scalping ordinance


In May, a few of those visitors say they will return to fight charges that landed them in jail for trying to obtain one of the toughest tickets in sports.

In the first three days of Masters Week, Richmond County sheriff’s deputies arrested 41 people in connection with buying and selling Masters practice-round tickets. The arrests more than doubled the number of those apprehended last year.

Officers say the arrests were part of a crackdown on the crowds of ticket seekers outside the gates of Augusta National Golf Club accosting golf patrons and impeding the flow of pedestrian traffic. Many of those arrested, however, say they were just golf fans who were unnecessarily hauled to jail in a police operation that targeted tourists.

The Augusta Chronicle spoke with more than half of those arrested and charged with disorderly conduct. Many, such as Bryan Epps, said they were fans who ran afoul of an obscure law, not scalpers looking to profit from Masters tickets.

In fact, only two of those arrested were charged with scalping. The vast majority of those arrested, 36, were charged with disorderly conduct.

“I’m going to go to a jury trial, whatever it takes,” said Epps, of Florence, S.C., one of several who said they were arrested even though they didn’t buy or sell a ticket.

The 43-year-old said he had come to Augusta on April 4 hoping to find a ticket to a practice round.

After buying lunch at Zaxby’s, he grabbed his chair and camera and staked out a place outside Gate 9 of Augusta National to await patrons leaving for the day.

“I had $100 in my pocket, enough to buy food and some souvenirs,” said Epps. “I was asking for a free ticket.”

He said a married couple stopped and offered him theirs. He accepted the man’s ticket but declined one offered by his wife, Epps said.

Epps said no money changed hands, but seconds later he was under arrest. Sheriff’s deputies hauled Epps to jail, where he was booked for disorderly conduct and had to post $500 bond to be released.

“I didn’t know that it was illegal to ask for a free ticket,” he said. “I was just blown away.”

The law

State law doesn’t prohibit giving away tickets, but it is illegal to sell tickets within 2,700 feet of the entrance to a large sporting event.

This year, deputies charged two men with violating the state law. Sheriff’s Sgt. Allan Rollins said that was because they had been repeatedly warned and were clearly dealers, purchasing tickets to sell for a profit.

The majority of those arrested for buying and selling too close to the gate were charged with disorderly conduct, but still subject to a $500 fine and a trip to jail.

Rollins said that unlike in past years, merely asking for a ticket could get you in just as much trouble as selling one.

“Last year, we waited until we saw a physical exchange,” he said. Officers broadened their scope this year to discourage the open solicitation of tickets, he said.

Merely indicating you were in the market for a ticket could get you taken to jail. That’s what happened to Mark Scar­borough, of Warner Robins, Ga. He and friend Stephen Sherman had just asked a question outside Gate 6 when they were grabbed by undercover deputies.

“I walked up to someone and said, ‘Are you going back in today?’ ” Scar­borough said.

Seconds later, he said, he was being yanked out of the crowd by deputies dressed in plain clothes. He said the deputies didn’t immediately identify themselves.

“The whole thing could not have been more ludicrous,” he said.

Rollins said sheriff’s officers issued verbal warnings and confiscated tickets all day April 2, the first day of practice rounds, advising people not to buy, sell or even ask for tickets near the gates. He said warnings continued the next day, then arrests began to back up the threats.

“There was a huge uniformed officer in the road telling people not to do that there, but they wouldn’t listen,” Rollins he said.

He said the main problem is the crowds that congregate directly across from Gates 6 and 9 on Berckmans Road, the only two entrances for the general public. He said patrons leaving the course on practice-round days have to pass through a gauntlet of ticket seekers to get to the parking lot beyond.

Rollins sought guidance from Magistrate Court Judge William Jen­nings III before deputies began making arrests. He said he was advised that those asking for tickets could be charged under the city’s disorderly conduct ordinance.

Harry B. James, the solicitor whose job it will be to represent the state in Magistrate Court, said that although the state law only directly prohibits selling tickets, the purchaser can be charged as well.

He said people can be charged with disorderly conduct in these situations if they engage in otherwise illegal activity.

James said negotiating a sale without exchanging money, however, is not necessarily prohibited. For example, it should be OK to discuss buying someone’s ticket outside Augusta National so long as the two parties moved clear of the 2,700-foot boundary to conduct their business.

Ashley Withers, of Columbia, said she only asked a woman whether she was returning to the tournament and was arrested soon afterward.

“I said nothing to her about money,” Withers said. “I’ve already talked to an attorney. I’m going to try to fight it.”

Different in Augusta

Some of those arrested said they expected to be able to buy tickets from scalpers, just like most other sports events. They said they didn’t know about the 2,700-foot boundary.

Karol Simms, of Temecula, Calif., said she was writing a letter to Augusta National to complain about her arrest outside Gate 6.

“This has put a very bad taste in my mouth for Augusta and for Georgia,” she said.

Simms was going to wait for friends outside the gates until she was offered a free ticket by a patron who was on the way out. She accepted but felt she should at least pay face value for the ticket, so she gave him $50.

That’s when a deputy swooped in and grabbed her.

“I was appalled by the whole situation,” Simms said. “I’ve been to golf courses all over the world and never have I seen anything like this.”

Authorities that follow the same state law in other cities say scalping isn’t a big concern for them.

University of Georgia police Chief Jimmy Williamson said his department deals with large crowds on seven Saturdays of every year for Georgia football games, but his officers almost never make arrests for scalping.

Williamson said it is common to see people buying and selling football tickets on the streets outside Sanford Stadium, but so long as
people aren’t involved in a dispute or creating a commotion, police don’t get involved.

“We don’t want to make any arrests that we don’t have to make,” he said.

Williamson said the intent of the scalping law is to keep ticket resellers from competing with ticket sales at the gate. Since all Georgia home games are sold out before game time, there is no competition to be concerned about, he said.

Augusta National’s policy – printed on the back of the tickets – states that Masters tickets may not be sold to others. Mark Solon, of Seneca, S.C., said he knows that now.

“Anybody that tells me that you can just go down to the Masters and get tickets, I’ll set them straight,” said Solon, who was arrested while trying to acquire tickets for his son’s college golf teammates near Gate 6.

Solon said he saw signs outside Augusta National advising people of all the things that were prohibited
on its grounds, but none about ticket laws.

“As I walked up there, I must have passed 50 signs about all kinds of things,” Solon said. “Not anywhere did I see a sign that said no buying or selling tickets.”

Education efforts?

Rollins said a few signs on Berck­mans Road might make his job a little easier. Some city officials think it is worth exploring.

Barry White, the president and CEO of the Augusta Convention and Visitors Bureau, said no one has ever suggested to him that there should be signs informing visitors of the ticket scalping law, but it isn’t necessarily a bad idea.

“If we can do anything to reduce the possibility of a visitor having a negative experience, that would make sense to me,” he said.

When visitors get arrested because they aren’t aware of the local laws, it can reflect badly on the community.

White said there is a common saying that applies: “When you have a good experience you tell two people, and when you have a bad experience, you tell 22.”

Marvin Lowry, of Jacksonville Beach, Fla., said he thinks something needs to change.

Lowry said that when he was pulled away from his 12-year-old daughter by an undercover deputy April 4, he was expecting maybe a reprimand
or a citation for trying to buy a ticket near Gate 6. He wasn’t expecting to be taken to jail.

“I never had a transaction,” he said. “I never gave somebody my money.”

Lowry said he has attended numerous PGA Tour events and lived near the TPC Sawgrass course in Florida for a while and was stunned by how police handled visitors to Augusta.

He said the worst part of it was his daughter having to watch her father being taken away in handcuffs.

“It’s a shame what happened,” he said. “That was her first Masters and probably her last.”

Iowa pastor plans to fight charge

Dave Heisterkamp said he was in Augusta less than an hour April 4 when he was arrested on Berckmans Road.

“It was the rudest experience of my life,” he said.

Heisterkamp said he and a friend had flown into Atlanta the night before from Polk City, Iowa, where he serves as the senior pastor at Lakeside Fellowship church.

Heisterkamp said he and his friend had rented a small house in North Augusta from a man who served as
their guide and dropped them off near Heath Drive to find practice-round tickets.

It was his first Masters, so Heister­kamp said he assumed getting tickets to the sold-out event worked much like buying them at Iowa State games back home.

“I was holding up two fingers,” said Heisterkamp, which is a common way to let others know you are seeking tickets.

He said a uniformed police officer spotted what he was doing and called him over.

“He said, ‘You can’t be doing that, you will get in trouble,’ ” Heist­er­kamp said. He said the officer instructed him to discretely place his two fingers against his chest.

That’s what he was doing when an undercover sheriff’s deputy grabbed him from behind and said he was under arrest, Heisterkamp said.

“He said he was charging me with disorderly conduct for impeding the flow of traffic,” he said.

“It was very humiliating,” he added. “I was not intentionally breaking anybody’s law.”

Heisterkamp said even though it will be a big inconvenience to return to Augusta, he thinks he has to challenge the charge because of his position as a pastor and as someone who regularly works with children at youth camps.

“I don’t feel like it was a legitimate charge,” he said. “I don’t want to have this on my record.”

Heisterkamp is one of the many arrested who pointed out that there were no signs explaining to visitors that buying and selling tickets outside the club’s gates was illegal.

“If it’s illegal, they should post it,” he said.

Richmond County Sheriff Ronnie Strength said ignorance the law is not a defense, but he isn’t convinced that putting up signs explaining the law would help.

“It says on the ticket that you can’t sell it,” he said.

Comments (49) Add comment
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DuhJudge
206
Points
DuhJudge 04/21/12 - 07:11 pm
9
1
This is an example of fascist

This is an example of fascist law that I disagree with. Not good for anybody.

decaro
0
Points
decaro 04/21/12 - 11:48 pm
10
1
Meanwhile, more than 100 cars

Meanwhile, more than 100 cars are stolen every month in Augusta (including my own a few months ago) and I don't dare to eat at a Waffle House after dark for fear of being shot.

Iwannakno
1533
Points
Iwannakno 04/22/12 - 01:26 am
1
0
When you have the National
Unpublished

When you have the National using the police as their own private security this is what happens. I don't care how much they give to charity the arresting of regular people just because you don't like your tickets being handed off is stupid. Just like pulling strings to get the sign flying plane removed. Bunch of rich power wielding jerks.
Funny how I never see the police at any concerts or sports games and I have seen plenty of scalping there.

ForeverFrog
1
Points
ForeverFrog 04/22/12 - 02:29 am
9
1
What decaro said. Those

What decaro said. Those arrests at the Masters just gave Augusta another black eye! :(

common-sense-justice
0
Points
common-sense-justice 04/22/12 - 03:01 am
5
0
It's that PRIVATE club that

It's that PRIVATE club that tax dollars support. Follow the money....

Riverman1
86906
Points
Riverman1 04/22/12 - 04:40 am
10
1
It also says on pillows you

It also says on pillows you can't tear the tag off without being fined and I never heard of anyone being jailed for that.

agustinian
718
Points
agustinian 04/22/12 - 06:19 am
9
0
Dear Sheriff Strength: Why

Dear Sheriff Strength:

Why are we arresting people for misdemeanor offenses? How 'bout issuing a summons. Handcuffs and processing through the booking system, really?

I would think someone asking about tickets is probably protected by the first amendment. I am glad some people are fighting this overreach by law enforcement.

Techfan
6461
Points
Techfan 04/22/12 - 06:24 am
10
0
If it's the law (which is a

If it's the law (which is a stupid one), fine. Inform folks it's illegal and send them on their way. If they repeat the behavior then worry about charging them.

Riverman1
86906
Points
Riverman1 04/22/12 - 07:31 am
9
0
From the comments of those

From the comments of those arrested it clearly seems rights were violated. If Sheriff Strength doesn't get that, the county may end up paying greatly for his lack of knowledge. Asking on public property for free tickets or for the person to accompany you past the half mile mark for a ticket sale/buy is certainly not an illegal activity.

Those people need to pool their resources and get the ball rolling with a civil suit against the county to ensure this never happens again. Thanks to Steve Crawford for examining the issue.

I'd also like to know what happened to that man's 12 year old daughter when he was handcuffed and taken to jail? Was she left alone? I am disgusted by our rudeness to guests in the city.

nothin2show4it
120
Points
nothin2show4it 04/22/12 - 10:01 am
10
1
Why didn't the sheriff's
Unpublished

Why didn't the sheriff's department arrest the people who gave away the tickets?

Answer: Because the Augusta National doesn't want to bite the hands that feed them. They just don't want it feeding anyone else. It is the modern day Master-Slave mentality.

Maybe that is why they call it the Master's.

dichotomy
34406
Points
dichotomy 04/22/12 - 08:00 am
9
0
Selling tickets,

Selling tickets, unfortunately called scalping even though it is not always scalping, is not enforced anywhere else in the state at any other events. Our local law enforcement officials should not be enforcing Masters rules. Let the Masters people develop their own procedure to enforce their "Cannot Be Sold" policy INSIDE THE GATES of the Masters. This issue is not about "traffic flow" or state law. It's about our local law enforcement people enforcing the Masters policies. The Masters has a stupid policy and they use their influence to get our cops to try to enforce it for them free of charge.

scoobynews
3896
Points
scoobynews 04/22/12 - 08:13 am
7
0
I hope every one of these

I hope every one of these people win their case! Absolutely the most snobbish sporting event in the world! How do you go to jail for getting a free ticket??? I really can't figure out why anyone would support this "good ole boy" clubhouse and sporting event. People who have been getting tickets for years through the outdated system this place uses should all be eliminated next year and they sell tickets the good old fashioned way first come first serve. But we know that isn't going to happen we may get some undesirables with money on the course.

Just My Opinion
5864
Points
Just My Opinion 04/22/12 - 08:13 am
3
0
To me, this has less to do

To me, this has less to do with the folks at Augusta National and more to do with how the law is interpreted by the Sheriff's department. I think it's a great stretch that "those asking for tickets could be charged under the city’s disorderly conduct ordinance.", even though this "advice" was offered by Judge Jennings. I mean, come on! If you're LOOKING to stretch the laws, are you going to charge people in wheelchairs as "squatters" when they're sitting and waiting on the light to change?? See how silly and ridiculous that can get? I understand the folks at Augusta National wanting the deputies (who are just doing the job they are assigned) to stop the patrons from being harassed by folks wanting to buy or sell their tickets for a profit, but NOT people who are willing to GIVE their tickets away! And I do think that the lady who offered to pay the person the $50 face value of the practice round ticket was wrong, because the original person had "used up" (for lack of a better term) the goods that the ticket provided, so any additional money given would be some sort of profit for the original person.....but if no money was exchanged, then it should be okay. But what do I know? I think the folks at Augusta National will read this article and put a bug in somebody's ear and these charges will all be dropped.

Just My Opinion
5864
Points
Just My Opinion 04/22/12 - 08:16 am
2
0
dicotomy, that's not

dicotomy, that's not alltogether true. The police outside the Georgia Dome arrest people for scalping...at least a certain distance outside the perimeter of the Dome. I've seen people arrested for doing it.

Kendall
0
Points
Kendall 04/22/12 - 08:29 am
2
0
Well, I live in the 30907 zip
Unpublished

Well, I live in the 30907 zip code------------who is my legislator??

Donmc
0
Points
Donmc 04/22/12 - 09:02 am
6
0
If no money was exchanged

If no money was exchanged then where was the law broken. A little common sense on enforcing this one was needed. These people were just fans trying to go in . This has been going on for years. What next? Couple of years ago you could go into an entrance on Washington Rd to buy stuff without a ticket. Now you have to have a ticket to buy anything. My wife tried last year and was told you had to have a ticket to buy any souvenirs. Someone coming out overheard her conversation with the deputy and offered her their badge. She would have been arrested. Nonsense plain Nonsense!

mangum
12
Points
mangum 04/22/12 - 09:07 am
6
0
ignorance of the law is not

ignorance of the law is not a defense maybe true , however I think in order to enforce a particular law they should have the signs posted that inform patrons of the law., that is if the intent to not have folks gathering at the gates, why is this such a hard thing to do or are there some other motive behind the arrests and as far as the ticket stating that it cannot be sold ,
please explain how the person wanting to purchase a ticket knows this, if they had the ticket in hand this would not have been a problem,

Gomer
0
Points
Gomer 04/22/12 - 09:22 am
8
0
It is incredulous that the

It is incredulous that the events contained in this article happened!! How about someone checking on the people who have been selling their tickets and badges for many years for $3000-$5000 each and renting their homes for the same amounts. The majority of badges issued locally are sold as I outlined above!

kiwiinamerica
950
Points
kiwiinamerica 04/22/12 - 09:38 am
0
0
If the Augusta National is
Unpublished

If the Augusta National is not prepared to ask its patrons for an ID when they are admitted to the course, then it is just winking at all of these ticket shenanigans. They could put a stop to this tomorrow.

storiesihaveread
358
Points
storiesihaveread 04/22/12 - 10:07 am
10
0
Seriously Augusta you can

Seriously Augusta you can arrest people asking for free tickets to your golden child, but you cannot arrest the pan handlers in downtown Augusta. At least 2 times a week I am harassed by people asking for money.
I have heard it said one unhappy person will tell 10 people, those 10 people will tell more people. Next thing you know over 5,000 people know what happened.

Kendall
0
Points
Kendall 04/22/12 - 10:07 am
5
0
Don't you know that those
Unpublished

Don't you know that those rich white guys are laughing (and I a white guy, not rich however) at all of us when we all come here to worship at their chuch??

Insider Information
4009
Points
Insider Information 04/22/12 - 10:12 am
7
0
1) The last time you went out

1) The last time you went out of town, did you first read the laws of that state, county and local municipality? Ignorance of the law isn't an excuse, but is it reasonable to expect people to know our laws if we don't inform them?

2) Would it be a conflict of interest for the Augusta National to give tickets to the sheriff and judges and for the same sheriff and judges to be involved in arresting these people and hearing their cases?

shrimp for breakfast
5460
Points
shrimp for breakfast 04/22/12 - 10:26 am
8
0
These arrests were idiotic.

These arrests were idiotic. Undercover arrests? LOL
Don't you folks see it's just the wealthy members of the Augusta National Golf Club getting thier way. Money talks BS walks.
Only a rich club like ANGC could have the police in thier hip pocket like this. It just goes to show you that the wealthy have always made thier own laws.

itsanotherday1
45390
Points
itsanotherday1 04/22/12 - 10:50 am
8
0
Looks like it is unanimous

Looks like it is unanimous opinion that Augusta screwed the pooch on this one. They just need to drop the charges on all but the ones who were warned but persisted; with a written apology from the mayor.

As I said before, if the ANGC wants to restrain reselling of tickets, all they have to do is randomly buy tickets from scalpers, look up the original owners, and revoke their privileges. That would put a screeching halt to the majority of it.

TCB22
652
Points
TCB22 04/22/12 - 10:51 am
8
0
There are no words. Well,

There are no words. Well, maybe one. Embarrassing.

gcap
290
Points
gcap 04/22/12 - 11:02 am
4
0
Stories makes the best point

Stories makes the best point of all. If the law is to be enforced, it should be enforced everywhere. Downtown is a relative war zone that my wife refuses to visit. Those asking for your money never get charged. Seems the Sheriff's Dept has much more important work to do. Maybe they should start with the downtown bums (not a reference to RC commissioners).

justthefacts
22706
Points
justthefacts 04/22/12 - 11:05 am
1
0
shrimp, apparently the owners

shrimp, apparently the owners of the Falcon and Braves also have the police in their hip pockets. They also enforce this law.

Golf Man67
0
Points
Golf Man67 04/22/12 - 11:26 am
6
1
I think that this is an

I think that this is an embarrassment to the Masters and the city of Augusta law enforcement. One of those arrested was a friend of mine who had two tickets "offered" to him. The entire distribution system of the tickets needs to change. It seems that those who have money or are tied to major companies that directly or indirectly sponsor get the tickets. The regular folks who want to enjoy the beauty of ANGL are locked out. I hope to see more than the charges being dropped. I imagine some of these individuals may end up on the Today show to tell their story.

justthefacts
22706
Points
justthefacts 04/22/12 - 12:06 pm
0
5
The ANGC has done much to

The ANGC has done much to allow people to see the beauty of the course. Practice round tickets are available to anyone of any income level, race, age, whatever.

Riverman1
86906
Points
Riverman1 04/22/12 - 12:15 pm
5
0
Justthefacts, let's keep this

Justthefacts, let's keep this straight now. In most cases these people were not scalping tickets which is what the law is about. They were asking people to give them tickets, willing to pay face value or asking people to accompany them the required distance for a purchase. They broke NO LAWS about scalping.

They were thrown in jail and suffered lots of personal damage by the experience. The minister gives an example of his reputation being harmed immensely. We need a legal defense fund for these people with people in Augusta contributing to show we want to right this wrong. In the end, these people are going to end up with a considerable sum for stupid actions that are still being defended by at least one official.

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