TAMPA — After those fiery and tense first nights, protests across Tampa Bay against police violence have been mostly peaceful. But there have been incidents involving motorists menacing or threatening the Black Lives Matter demonstrations.
For the second weekend in a row, contact between protesters and motorists near the Hyde Park Village restaurant and shopping area sent a protester to the hospital. This time, the protester ended up in jail.
The most recent encounter started about 6:30 p.m. Saturday as protesters blocked S Albany Avenue near the Winn-Dixie supermarket. They said they were having a moment of silence when a driver edged toward them and did not stop.
The driver slowly rolled through the protest. Seconds later, the car sped away with a damaged windshield and a protester clinging to the hood. Soon after, the protester, Jason Stuart Flores, 35, of St. Petersburg, was taken into custody by officers with the Tampa Police Department. The driver was allowed to leave.
This angered protesters, who later demonstrated in front of the Orient Road Jail.
Flores, an activist with the group Florida Indigenous Rights and Environmental Equality, was taken to an undisclosed hospital for medical treatment, said fellow activist Sheridan Murphy. Flores was later booked into jail on charges of unlawful assembly, resisting an officer without violence, criminal mischief and obstructing a highway.
The indigenous rights group posted his bail of $3,250 Sunday morning, Murphy said.
The group is sometimes invited to the protests to bless the ground with ceremony and prayer, Murphy said. On Saturday, members had been invited to come out to support activist Jae Passmore, who was hospitalized June 21 after she was struck and injured during a protest near Hyde Park Village. Tampa police said they were investigating that incident.
The evening march was dubbed the “No Dugan, No KKK, No Racist Tampa Bay Protest.” Tampa police Chief Brian Dugan had spoken out last week at a news conference and on national Fox News, defending his officers and criticizing the protests. For their part, activists appeared before the Citizen Review Board, the police oversight panel, demanding Dugan be fired and the department defunded.
In a statement Saturday night about the Flores arrest, Tampa police said the driver attempted to go through the crowd but said protesters crowded around his vehicle and damaged his windshield. He said someone jumped onto his hood and he drove off.
A Tampa Bay Times reporter witnessed the confrontation and gave this account:
Vehicles had approached the march earlier in the evening without incident, then the protesters blocked S Albany Avenue. The Volkswagen edged toward the crowd. Protesters did not give way at first. But the driver didn’t stop, and slowly rolled through. Some protesters moved out of the car’s way. Others did not.
The car stopped briefly in front of a group of protesters. They didn’t move. The car then edged forward into them. Some protesters jumped onto the hood and started banging on the windshield. The crowd started yelling.
The car sped up and jumped onto the curb, apparently still carrying at least one protester on the hood as others yelled and chased after it.
“Get the license plate!” someone yelled. “I got it. I got it,” a woman replied.
The car turned right onto W Swann Avenue and sped away with one protester still clinging to the hood. The incident ended soon after at Irish 31 Pub House & Eatery, W Swann Avenue and S Rome Avenue. Police vehicles sped into the area. There as many as 20 officers, some in helmets, on the street.
The officers told the Volkswagen driver to leave the area and the driver complied. Then, officers took the protester who was on the hood of the car into custody. Demonstrators were irate. Police held them back then left.
The protest reconvened about eight miles east at the Orient Road Jail, where demonstrators believed their colleague had been taken. They demanded that he be freed, banging on the lobby’s locked doors and yelling at the jail staff inside the bail office.
The tensest moments came when they rallied in front of the sally port — a secure garage where prisoners are removed and placed inside vehicles for transport — and some lifted a gate up and off its tracks, appearing to damage it.
Detention deputies with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office unholstered their stun guns and told the protesters to stand away from the gate. They set up a line and stood guard over the entrance.
Among the protesters was Passmore, who issued demands to the deputies: Give their friend medical attention and release him. She also asked why they didn’t arrest the driver.
“I wasn’t there,” said one sheriff’s deputy. The agency runs the jail but was not involved in the Hyde Park incident.
A deputy took down information about the incident from protesters, including the car’s license plate.
The group suddenly broke up. There was word that deputies had communicated by radio they were planning to use force to disperse the group. Half went to their vehicles in the parking lot and half remained in front of the jail under the breezeway.
Tensions soon eased. Hillsborough sheriff’s Maj. Anthony Collins told the Times that deputies weren’t preparing to declare an unlawful assembly or remove those who remained at the jail.
“There’s no reason to (declare) unlawful assembly if they’re peaceful,” Collins said. “There’s nothing unlawful about expressing your First Amendment right.”
Still, earlier in the evening, the Times observed deputies gathering at the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office District II headquarters, about 10 minutes from the Orient Road Jail. It doesn’t appear the deputies were deployed.
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Coverage of local and national protests from the Tampa Bay Times
WHAT PROTESTERS WANT: Protesters explain what changes would make them feel like the movement is successful.
WHAT ARE NON-LETHAL AND LESS-LETHAL WEAPONS? A guide to what’s used in local and national protests.
WHAT ARE ARRESTED PROTESTERS CHARGED WITH? About half the charges filed have included unlawful assembly.
CAN YOU BE FIRED FOR PROTESTING? In Florida, you can. Learn more.
HEADING TO A PROTEST? How to protect eyes from teargas, pepper spray and rubber bullets.