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Protesters accuse Tampa officers of harassment, renew call for police chief to be fired

The group accused officers of harassing them while also failing to act when they were attacked. They also reiterated their demands to oust Tampa police Chief Brian Dugan.

TAMPA — A group of protesters, activists and residents accused Tampa’s police force of harassment and inaction while renewing their calls for police Chief Brian Dugan to be fired in a Friday morning news conference held outside City Hall.

They highlighted two recent incidents involving officers taking excessive action, or not taking enough action: Among those who spoke were a woman who was held at gunpoint during a June 18 traffic stop, and a demonstrator whom a pick-up truck driver struck and injured on June 21.

The injured protester is activist Jae Passmore, who has taken a prominent role in the Tampa protest movement — she rejects the term “leader” — and has criticized the lack of police response to the incident that left her requiring a wheelchair afterward. The driver has not been arrested.

The other was Joneshia Wilkerson, who filmed a police officer who she said pointed a gun at her during a traffic stop. She said her life was upended when the Tampa Police Department released its own video of the incident — and in doing so publicized her personal information.

Tampa police say they were investigating a report that the vehicle she was driving was stolen, and that she was not arrested.

The Tampa Bay Times reached out to the Tampa Police Department and Castor’s office for comment on Friday’s news conference.

Related: Pickup driver curses, slams into protest leader at Hyde Park Village demonstration
Joneshia Wilkerson wipes tears from her face after sharing her story of being held at gunpoint during a June traffic stop at a Friday news conference criticizing Tampa police held outside City Hall. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

A group of about two dozen protesters gathered at nearby Lykes Gaslight Park before marching to City Hall for the news conference. Many wore masks emblazoned with the phrase “Dump Dugan” and as they marched the short distance there, chanted: “When he lies, don’t let it slide; dump Dugan, bye, bye, bye.”

Passmore, referring to her own June 21 ordeal, reiterated her belief that some of Dugan’s public comments during the Black Lives Matter protests — that frustrated motorists stuck in traffic due to protests should “start stepping up” — have emboldened “white supremacist vigilante violence.”

Police say they are still investigating the incident, but have not released the driver’s name or said what led to the driver’s actions that day. However, using vehicles to attack protests is an anti-protester tactic commonly discussed online by white supremacists.

Passmore also said that she believes she has been targeted by police during the now two-month long protest movement. She and her 5-year-old daughter were riding in a car stopped by officers July 16, she said, while she and other activists were driving home after planning to attend Mayor Jane Castor’s news conference, which was then moved online.

A Tampa police vehicle is parked at a garage across the street as protesters leave a press conference outside of Tampa City Hall in downtown on Friday, July 24, 2020. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

The officers knew her name without checking her ID, Passmore said, which made her feel like they had targeted her. She said her daughter was terrified that the child was going to be shot or arrested.

A Tampa police spokeswoman, given the date and location of the traffic stop described by Passmore, said officers filed no reports associated with the traffic stop.

“My 5-year-old has already been traumatized by the police,” Passmore said. “And I don’t know how she’s going to recover.”

Related: Videos from driver, body cam show two views of Tampa cop pulling his gun

Wilkerson said she also feels like a victim of police harassment starting last month, when she posted a video to Instagram of an officer pointing a pistol at her while she was parked in a driveway on June 18. Police said the vehicle was reported stolen out of Pinellas County. Wilkerson has said she borrowed the car from a friend who was financing it but apparently stopped making payments, which may have been why it was reported stolen.

The police department said the officer pointed his weapon toward the vehicle, but not directly at the driver. The agency later posted video of an officer’s body-worn camera that captured her being handcuffed and questioned.

But when police released it to counter Wilkerson’s own video, officials left audio of her giving her full name, address and phone number. The personal information of a woman who was riding with Wilkerson, however, was removed. Neither woman was arrested.

Wilkerson, who serves in the Army Reserve, said that in the aftermath, she received threats and was forced to move out of her home. Since then, she said, she’s been homeless, living in hotels and out of her car. Tampa police deleted the video in late June.

“The Tampa Police Department hasn’t reached out to me,” Wilkerson said. “They haven’t even said they’re sorry.”

Related: ACLU: Investigate Tampa police for revealing woman’s personal information

The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida has called for an investigation of the police department for publicizing Wilkerson’s information.

Passmore said the city should take a step some protesters have been calling for for months: firing Dugan. Castor has said that she will not fire Dugan, who served on her command staff when she was chief of police.

If that’s still the case, the activist said, then Castor should also step down.

“How is she failing her own city?” Passmore said. “It’s inexcusable.”

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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.