Last Monday, around 25 students held a peaceful protest in the lobby of the Patel Center for Global Solutions at USF. They were outside of President Rhea Law’s office demanding that she meet with them to address attacks on diversity coming from Ron DeSantis and to talk about increasing Black student enrollment.
Video shows the demonstration turning chaotic when USF Police Chief Chris Daniel grabbed Victoria Hinckley by the arm without announcing that she was under arrest, yanked her arm, then tightened his grip as she tried to move away.
After that, other students rushed in and one was arrested inside the lobby, while three more were arrested outside.
Another video shows Daniel pushing a woman in the back while twisting her wrist.
The students face felony charges of assault on a police officer, along with resisting an officer without violence and disruption of an educational institution, both misdemeanors.
The rally was held outside USF’s entrance gates, because those arrested were trespassed from the property and the students are currently on academic suspension.
“We are here today to say that we did nothing wrong,” said Gia Davila, one of the students arrested. “We were brutalized by the police for exercising our freedom of speech and right to protest and to say ‘No’ to Ron DeSantis’ racist attacks against education. We demand that the charges be dropped.”
Chrisley Carpio was an admissions worker at USF before the arrests, and she’s since been put on administrative leave.
”We demand that the charges be dropped, the academic suspension be ended, that USF President Law condemn House Bill 999 and refuse to comply with Ron DeSantis’ attack on diversity, critical race theory and higher education in general,” Carpio said. “And that police chief Chris Daniel be fired for his brutality against students exercising the right to protest.”
CL contacted USFPD and USF’s media communications department about the call for Daniels’ termination, but has not yet received a response.
USFPD sent out a press statement after the arrests and accused the students of initiating violence, but when shown video of Daniels grabbing the young woman, did not respond. The department also claimed that “Protestors hit police with objects, including what officers believe was a video camera and a water bottle, and threw an unidentified liquid at officers.”
But arrest reports obtained by Creative Loafing Tampa Bay, don’t mention that police were hit with such material.
When asked why the reports didn’t include those claims, USFPD said it wouldn’t answer anymore questions and referred CL to the state attorney’s office.
SAO 13 now has a dedicated line to inquiries about the arrests at USF, where CL submitted questions about the reports, but has not yet received a response.
SAO 13 is currency led by Suzy Lopez, a state attorney handpicked by DeSantis after he unceremoniously removed elected State Attorney Andrew Warren, in part because he pushed back against the governor's attack on criminalizing abortion.
Tampa attorney James Michael Shaw Jr. told CL that the video clearly shows that Daniel escalated the incident by grabbing the young woman, rather than using deescalation techniques.
“None of this would have happened if Daniel hadn't put his hands on a college girl who was not causing any threat to anybody's body or property when she was demanding to meet with the President,” Shaw said.
He also said that she was grabbed without proper police procedure, which could open up a civil rights case against USFPD.
“She was illegally seized,” Shaw Jr. said. “She was seized in violation of the Fourth Amendment, so she could bring a claim against them.”
One of Davila's teachers also defended her today in a text message to CL.
"I can attest to Gia's character as not only a dedicated and hard-working student as an artist in our program, but as a concerned and proactive citizen," wrote Neil Bender, Associate Professor at the School of Art & Art History. "I hope, as a university, we encourage students to be able to express their beliefs to enable change, if they decide to do so."
Bender said that Davila's involvement in protests to expand and protect diversity at USF is admirable, and that she shouldn't be punished for it.
"She is an intelligent and active student, to punish her from graduating this May seems excessive, and I hope any charges against her be dropped," Bender wrote. "I'm sure my colleagues who know Gia and have worked with her would agree."
After this story was published, USF sent CL a statement from President Law:
USF strongly supports the right to free speech. Just this week on our campuses there have been several protests and demonstrations that occurred peacefully and without incident, as is common at a public university. However, what took place on Monday afternoon at the Patel Center is not something anyone wants to see on our campuses. Using their training and university protocol, USF staff and police officers asked a protest group numerous times to move outside of the building, as they were disrupting normal business activities. When the group did not comply, police officers issued several additional warnings in an attempt to deescalate the situation. When the group again failed to comply, law enforcement tried to lead them out of the building. The group actively resisted, with some members putting their hands on police, as officers took action to remove them from the building. I believe it’s appropriate to further look into the matter, and we will review the actions of all involved.
UPDATE: This story was updated at 5:42 p.m. on 03/09/2023 to include a statement from President Law.