“We are waiving formal reading of the information, entering a not guilty plea and asking that the matters be set for a 45 or 60-day status,” Michelle Lambo, who’s representing all five protesters, told Creative Loafing Tampa Bay.
Lambo said she only had plans to represent one protester, but slept on it, had meetings, followed her heart and decided to represent the three students, one alumni, and one campus worker, who’ve come to be known as the “Tampa 5.”
As previously reported, campus worker Chrisley Carpio and students Gia Davila, Laura Rodriguez, Jeanie Kida and Lauren Pineiro were arrested in the wake of a March protest. During the action, members of Tampa Bay’s Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and other groups were demanding a meeting with USF President Rhea Law about expanding Black student enrollment and diversity programs.
They’re all charged with disrupting a school or campus function and resisting an officer without violence—both misdemeanors. Three protesters—Carpio, Kida and Rodriguez—face two felony charges of battery on a law enforcement officer, while Dabila and Pineiro each face one count of battery on a law enforcement officer.
“If it was something that my clients wanted or were willing to do, the state was then going to reach out to each alleged victim officer and confirm that they would approve it because it was diversion and typically you have to have victim’s approval,” she added.
Carpio was fired after being placed on leave, but told CL that the union has come out in support and is filing a wrongful termination grievance. "We're not guilty and we're not sorry. We were the ones attacked by USFPD for the simple act of protesting DeSantis and trying to save our schools. Prosecutor Justin Diaz needs to drop these charges immediately," Carpio added.
The next court date for the “Tampa 5” protesters is on July 12.
“The case law is very clear. If law enforcement is using excessive force, whether it is a lawful arrest or an unlawful arrest, you can resist with violence. You can defend yourself,” she said, “You don't have to lay there and die like George Floyd.”
Lambo also took issue with the way USF Police Chief Christopher Daniel handled Davila. Citing video from the arrest, Lambo said Daniel can be seen feeling on Davila’s buttocks while he’s on top of her, before he pulls out his cell phone. “She’s 125 pounds, and there were four cops on top of her,” Lambo added.
Outside the courthouse, Lambo called for Diael to be fired, saying he "molested and assaulted" Davila, then sat on her and used his phone to take a photo "as a trophy."
In the days after entering the not guilty plea, Lambo told WMNF 88.5-FM public affairs program "The Skinny" that her team plans to subpoena Daniel's cell phone records, witness lists from the state, photos of the alleged victim police officers and more.
Lambo also represented Tampa protester Jamie Bullock, who was charged with felony battery on a law enforcement officer, plus two misdemeanors, after a Fourth of July protest in 2020. Bullock upended her life to fight the charges and saw the state fail in its attempt to use a motion in limine to to suppress discussion of the constitutional right to free speech during the trial. A judge denied that motion in limine, and the state, citing new evidence, dropped felony charges against Bullock soon afterwards.
There are parallels between the Bullock case and the charges faced by the USF protesters, according to Lambo.
"Law enforcement in both matters have exaggerated their narrative. Or maybe they don't, you know, necessarily accurately recall everything because it was a hectic situation," Lambo told WMNF. "But I see a lot of similarities in the sense that you have law enforcement, engaging with protesters and initiating all of the violent contact."
After the presser, SDS rallied outside the Hillsborough County courthouse in support of the protesters.
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UPDATED 05/23/23 10:51 a.m. Updated with new court date information, plus additional comment and quotes from Carpio and Lambo.