TAMPA — Seven people protesting police brutality were arrested on charges of criminal mischief at Curtis Hixon Park on Saturday, and witnesses say they’re still unsure why.
In videos of the arrests, posted on social media and provided to the Tampa Bay Times by witnesses, those handcuffed are heard asking repeatedly, “What am I being detained for?”
One woman called out for her mom. A man yelled out his wife’s phone number so someone could tell her what was happening.
“We have you on video not reading the rights,” someone can be heard saying in one clip. “This is against freedom of expression and freedom of speech.”
The individuals arrested were “seen throwing paint along a sidewalk,” according to the Tampa Police Department. A rainbow of colors could be seen splattered there Sunday, surrounded by yellow caution tape and a sign that said “Park Closed.”
Tampa Police Department spokeswoman Vanessa Nettingham said more information about the arrests would be released as it became available. A text message to Mayor Jane Castor’s office requesting comment on the arrests wasn’t answered.
T.J. Jones, 26, witnessed the whole thing with her boyfriend. They arrived at the park about 6 p.m. after hearing there would be a protest there, then learned the group planned to paint a mural.
It was a sort of test, she said, to see if the city would respond the same way it did when Blue Lives Matter supporters painted a “Back the Blue” mural outside police headquarters without a permit from the city.
No one involved in planning or painting that mural has been arrested. But the scene was very different at Curtis Hixon, Jones said.
“Cops showed up and started dragging people away,” she said. “There was a kid sitting, not even participating, and they came up and grabbed him. ... That’s not what they did to the people for the Back the Blue thing.”
Jones shared videos with the Times showing police running after protesters. The videos also show multiple people in handcuffs, being led away from the park by officers.
Protesters are heard screaming at officers, pleading for an explanation for the arrests. None appear to answer, instead telling protesters to back up.
“What’s the difference between that mural and this one?” someone asks, referencing the pro-police mural on Madison Street.
In the background, Matthew Yampolsky, 35, is seen pressed against a cop car with his hands behind his back, yelling at someone in the crowd to call his wife, Jordana Cummings.
Cummings, 25, was at home with the couple’s 2-year-old daughter. She answered the phone and a woman told her Yampolsky had been put into a cop car, she said.
“I didn’t get to talk to him until 4 a.m.,” Cummings said. “He told me that he was okay but that he was arrested for no reason.”
Yampolsky spoke during public comment at the Citizen Review Board’s June 23 meeting, in which he and a roomful of activists at the Tampa Bay Convention Center called for Police Chief Brian Dugan’s removal and criticized Castor.
Yampolsky appealed to the volunteer police oversight committee members to take action.
“Get Castor out of here. Let her have her scapegoat in Dugan and get him out first. She’ll lose re-election anyways next year. But you guys need to change it,” Yampolsky said.
Castor doesn’t face re-election until 2023. The mayor has said she has no plans to remove Dugan. Last week, she announced that she planned to invest in the city’s police department, not cut its budget, which angered many who have been actively protesting police brutality and racial injustice since George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis police custody on Memorial Day.
The arrests happened about 6:35 p.m. Saturday, Hillsborough County jail records show. Along with Yampolsky, those arrested were: Grant K. Lovering, 33; Julien Gibbs, 26; Silvia M. McDonald, 22; Didier Salgado, 25; Breyahn Johnson, 23; and Kai Robinson, 22.
McDonald, Salgado, Johnson and Robinson have been released on $500 bond. Yampolsky, who was also charged with resisting arrest without violence, was released on $1,000 bond. Lovering remains in jail on $500 bond, and Gibbs, who is also charged with resisting arrest without violence, is being held on $1,000 bond.
Correction: Julien Gibbs and Kai Robinson were arrested Saturday. An earlier version of this article used incorrect names due to jail records.
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Coverage of local and national protests from the Tampa Bay Times
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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.