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Activists criticize Tampa police response to drivers clashing with protesters

In two separate incidents, drivers didn’t face charges. In one case, a protester was arrested.

TAMPA — About 100 people gathered in Lykes Gaslight Park Tuesday evening to protest Tampa police response to two activists struck by cars driving through rallies in recent weeks.

In both cases, drivers didn’t face charges. In one case, a protester was arrested.

Jae Passmore, who was hospitalized June 21 after she was hit and injured during a protest near Hyde Park Village, stood on crutches and called for Tampa Mayor Jane Castor to fire Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan.

“Two people in the span of six days who hit protesters are not facing any criminal charges and have not been arrested,” Passmore said.

Members of the Florida Indigenous Rights and Environmental Equality group announced they filed a civil rights complaint with the Department of Justice on behalf of the other activist who was injured, Jason Stuart Flores.

Related: The driver. The protester. The jail stand off. A tense night in Tampa

Flores, 35, was arrested after clinging to the hood of a car that rolled through what had been a peaceful demonstration in Hyde Park on Saturday. The complaint states that his rights were violated, and his arrest also violated the Civil Rights Act of 1871, the American Indian Religious Freedom Act and the 4th Amendment, said Sheridan Murphy, a coordinator for the group.

Flores was notably absent from the protest Tuesday. Murphy said he was at home recovering from his injuries.

The incident Saturday took place at Swann Avenue near Albany Avenue, where Black Lives Matter protesters had gathered. Passmore was struck and injured by a car in the same area during a protest a week earlier.

Flores, also a member of Florida Indigenous Rights and Environmental Equality, had been invited to come out to bless the area. He came dressed in abalone shells and feathers, prepared to clear the air of negativity with an Indigenous smudging ceremony. But as he was praying during a moment of silence, a white man in a Volkswagen sedan began driving into the crowd, unprovoked, activists said.

Murphy said the driver hit one person before he hit Flores then continued onto Swann Avenue. The driver then accelerated. Flores clung to the hood as the car drove nearly half a mile before stopping at a bar.

”We have no confidence that we can safely gather and protest in Tampa,” Murphy said.

Tampa police officers arrested Flores, but the driver of the sedan was released. Activists said they later saw him at a bar.

Flores was taken to the hospital with minor injuries and booked on charges of criminal mischief, unlawful assembly, obstructing a highway and resisting a law enforcement officer without violence.

Related: Hyde Park protesters point to videos, say police got it wrong in arrest report

The police version of the incident differs significantly.

According to the arrest report, the male driver — whose name has not been released — attempted to turn away from the protesters but they blocked his path in the roadway. “Some of the protesters then began to hit and kick his vehicle at which time Jason Flores jumped on the hood of the victim’s vehicle and began to strike the windshield, causing it to shatter,” the report said.

Along with breaking the windshield of the Volkswagen sedan, Flores damaged the hood, causing about $2,000 in damage, according to the report. When officers tried to arrest him, Flores tried to resist by bracing, tensing and pulling away, the report said.

A Tampa Bay Times reporter was on the scene and saw protesters on the car’s hood, banging on the windshield. He also saw the driver accelerate with Flores and another man still clinging on. Part of the incident was captured on video, though it’s difficult to make out the sequence of events.

In a news release Saturday, police said they are reviewing “various video clips” of the incident. They did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday.

Murphy commended deputies from the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, who spoke with protesters outside the Orient Road Jail Saturday where they demanded Flores be freed. He said deputies talked with them about what the problem was and treated Flores with human decency — something he said the Tampa Police Department failed to do.

• • •

Coverage of local and national protests from the Tampa Bay Times

HOW TO SUPPORT: Whether you’re protesting or staying inside, here are ways to educate yourself and support black-owned businesses.

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.

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