It’s been nearly 100 days since Black Lives Matter protests began in Tampa Bay, and today Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren announced a slew of updates regarding charges for protesters, as well pro-police counter protesters.
In a statement released this afternoon, Warren announced that no charges will be filed against the “Back the Blue” mural organizers, who illegally shutdown a downtown street on Aug. 1 and painted the mural without a permit. “The evidence available does not establish beyond a reasonable doubt the individuals responsible acted with willful or malicious intent to damage property as required under Florida law,” said the statement.
Citing the same reasoning, Warren also said that charges will be dropped against the four individuals who allegedly spilled paint over the “Back the Blue” mural, and no charges will be filed against the seven individuals who allegedly painted on a sidewalk without a permit near Curtis Hixon Park.
In the same announcement, Warren dismissed the false imprisonment charges against Sadie Dean and Torrie Grogan, which resulted from a confrontation on June 27 in Hyde Park Village. “After additional review of this case, we determined the evidence does not establish beyond a reasonable doubt the elements necessary for false imprisonment,” said the statement.
Warren also said his office will not pursue charges against local organizer Jae Passmore for an Aug. 12 incident, where she “lightly pushed a man who walked closely by her,” calling it an “extremely minor incident that presents in no threat to public safety.”
Dropping charges is all good and well for the purposes of a press release, but it still doesn’t change the fact that the police tactic of targeting protesters puts peaceful protesters in danger. The folks who were arrested in Curtis Hixon got beat up and groped in jail. Law enforcement still lied to Dean to get the door open and then refused to let her get dressed before arresting her (her attorney said she was “bruised and mistreated” in custody. And dropping charges against Passmore doesn’t mean she still hasn’t been abused by police and nearly killed by angry drivers.
By comparison, there’ve been no known arrests for the “Back the Blue” muralists.
While Warren announced changes in these particular protest-related cases, he also reiterated that many people are still facing charges. In a new development, the department says it is now pursuing reckless driving charge for Noah Armstrong, after he allegedly drove his car through a crowd of protesters on July 4.
Warren is also still going after a criminal mischief charge for Adam Sartori for allegedly vandalizing a police car, as well as multiple charges for 120 different people for crimes of looting, burglary, theft, and attacking police, stemming from a protest on May 30.
“These types of cases involve tough decisions. Our guiding principle is to distinguish between people committing crimes for personal gain or to cause destruction versus protestors whose aim is to make their voices heard,” said Warren in the statement. “The 264 charges filed to date make it clear that we will prosecute those who seek to harm our community, but it is counterproductive to criminally prosecute people who are exercising their First Amendment rights—especially when other options exist to address questionable behavior, such as civil citations.”
UPDATED 09/08/20 7:45 am. Updated with background information.
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