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Arrests, demonstration outside St. Pete mayor’s house roils protest movement

Four protesters were arrested in two separate incidents on Saturday. The St. Pete Peace Protest group criticized the protest outside the mayor's house: “That behavior is unacceptable.”

ST. PETERSBURG — An unsettling week for the city’s protest movement culminated Saturday when four demonstrators were arrested at two different protests.

The first incident took place outside the home of Mayor Rick Kriseman in the Pasadena Estates area. A small group of protesters assembled outside of his home, just as they did the week before. But this time two women were arrested, one of them on a charge of child neglect after police said she allowed her child to block traffic.

Hours later, as demonstrators continued their nightly march through downtown, St. Petersburg police vehicles suddenly appeared and officers took three people into custody. The two men and a woman were detained just before 9 p.m. outside the Ponce De Leon Hotel hotel on Central Avenue, near Beach Drive NE.

Their fellow protestors screamed and cried out in protest at the officers. It was supposed to be a ticket, they yelled, referring to the city’s new policy of fining protesters who block traffic.

“Everybody keep moving, keep moving,” a young demonstrator yelled as they regrouped on the sidewalk. The group then returned to City Hall.

The three were detained for blocking traffic, said St. Petersburg police spokeswoman Yolanda Fernandez.

A woman tried to “evade” officers giving her a ticket, police said, so she was arrested on a charge of obstruction. A man who tried to “interfere” with her arrest faces the same charge. The third person was ticketed, police said, but not arrested. No other information about the incident was released by police.

Related: The protesters vs. the Pier. How St. Petersburg’s demonstrations evolved.

Tensions have been on the rise since Monday, when St. Petersburg opened its new $92 million St. Pete Pier to the public. But protesters quickly focused on the project, and the patrons flocking to see it. Demonstrators made it a point to march through it several nights this week as they continued their protest against police brutality and racial injustice.

Things got out of hand on Thursday. St. Petersburg police say a protester struck and injured a diner when demonstrators entered the rooftop bar, while protesters say the diner threw a punch at them and used racial slurs.

No one was arrested then, and police said the investigation was continuing.

Related: Diner, demonstrator scuffle atop the St. Pete Pier

Then on Saturday morning, demonstrators returned to Kriseman’s home. It was the second Saturday in a row that demonstrators protested outside his house.

But then at about 10:45 a.m., police said, a child under the age of 12 was seen sitting in the middle of the road blocking vehicles as part of the protest. The child also stood in front of a slow-moving vehicle and was “barely” seen by the driver.

The child’s mother “slowly and casually” walked up to her child, the report said, stood in front of a vehicle, then pickup her child and slowly left the street. Two witnesses said they saw the incident, police said.

Erin Kennedy, 37, was arrested on a charge of child neglect without great bodily harm and for resisting an officer without violence while in custody. When police took her into custody, the report said, Kennedy “became dead weight” and dropped to the ground, refusing to stand or walk. She was carried into the back of a police vehicle.

A 28-year-old woman was also arrested in the same area, but police did not say if it was in connection with the child neglect case. The woman is accused of getting out of her vehicle, walking into a crime scene and ignoring officers’ commands to stop. Brandi Hurch is also struck the arms and hands of an officer who tried to stop her, police said, and resisted being handcuffed.

The official Facebook page for the St. Pete Peace Protest group denounced the protest in front of the mayor’s house.

“Just for the record BLACK leadership was not in support of going to the Mayor’s house this morning,” the message said. “That behavior is unacceptable.”

Related: Meet St. Pete’s accidental protest leader, who found he has something to say

The mayor’s spokesman, Ben Kirby, issued this response:

“Mayor Kriseman urges those continuing to protest to do so safely, with respect for others, and within the law. He has repeatedly declared his support for the movement sweeping this nation, but some things, like placing a child in front of an oncoming vehicle as a tactic to stop traffic, are simply unconscionable and unacceptable.”

The St. Pete Peace Protest group assembled for another march that evening outside City Hall. It started at about 8 p.m. as about 20 of them marched down Central Avenue, toward Beach Drive NE.

Police vehicles started following them right away, as officers flashed their emergency lights and ordered the protesters onto the sidewalk.

“If you can’t afford the ticket get over to the sidewalk,” the demonstrators yelled to each other. The city’s policy calls for officers to hand out fliers to first-time offenders, then hand out $62.50 fines for the ensuing offenses.

Most protesters stuck to the street, however. They and the officers spoke on the roadway, and some asked the officers for their badge numbers.

Then came the arrests.

Afterward the group marched back to City Hall and disbanded for the night.

• • •

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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