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Two arrested in another encounter between Tampa protesters and drivers

One car strikes another on South Howard, police say, but was it an act of aggression or protection?

TAMPA — A light rain fell Tuesday evening as protesters made their way north up the middle of South Howard Avenue.

Behind them, a determined Jeep driver suddenly pulled onto the sidewalk to get around the roadblock. A protester in a white Kia blocked her path. Protesters told the Jeep driver to turn around.

What happened next would lead to the arrest of two protesters, police said, one of them the Kia driver — T Munoz, 24, of Tampa. Munoz was later booked on felony charges of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon and false imprisonment.

Tampa police say that when the Jeep driver started to drive away, Munoz stepped on the gas and intentionally drove the Kia into the driver’s side of the Jeep.

Advocates for Munoz dispute that claim, saying it was an act of protection rather than aggression — meant to spare protesters from being hit.

Related: Tampa Bay drivers have run into protesters. Why haven’t they been arrested?

Whatever the motive, the collision was the latest tense encounter in the Tampa Bay area between drivers and Black Lives Matter activists, who block roads to keep people from turning away from their message. As in past incidents, this one was captured on video.

An arrest report says police officers in the area watched as Munoz blocked the Jeep from continuing north on Howard Avenue. The Jeep driver called 911 twice and said she needed help because she couldn’t move, the report says.

“She stated she was in fear for her safety and needed the police to help as several people were striking her vehicle with their fists,” the report says. As the Jeep driver tried to drive north “to avoid the area, the defendant intentionally drove on the wrong side of the roadway and intentionally used her vehicle to strike the driver’s side door of the victim’s vehicle."

The report says the Kia caused about $1,000 in damage to the Jeep.

Tampa police released three videos showing different angles of the incident. They did not release the Jeep driver’s name because of the department’s interpretation of Marsy’s Law, a constitutional amendment approved by Florida voters in 2018 that’s meant to protect crime victims but deprives the public of information that had previously been available under the state’s public records law.

A two-hour video streamed live on Facebook by a protester at the scene also captured the incident.

Starting at about the 40-minute mark, the protester’s video — posted on Facebook at the independent media support page Str34mtv — shows people standing in the street in front of the Yard of Ale SOHO along the 400 block of S Howard. Other protesters in cars are parked behind them, hazard lights flashing, to block traffic and protect the protesters on foot.

Jae Passmore, who has led local Black Lives Matter demonstrations against police brutality, is talking into a megaphone.

Suddenly, a horn sounds several times and the camera pans to a dark blue Jeep pulling onto the sidewalk. The white Kia pulls up to block the Jeep. Another protester behind the wheel of a blue Ford pickup is also blocking the street.

The woman behind the wheel of the Jeep lowers her window. Protesters tell her to back up and turn around.

“You can’t block all the lanes!” she replies. “How can I turn around?”

Protesters offer to help direct her.

“You have plenty of room," another says.

The woman creeps up toward the blue pickup, then starts dialing her cell phone, apparently to call police.

Then the woman says, “You guys don’t own this road."

“We’re trying to prevent people from getting hurt,” a protester replies.

Moments later, when another pickup driver who’s stopped in traffic uses the opposite sidewalk to go around the group, the protester in the blue pickup moves out of position to follow it. The woman in the Jeep starts driving north. An unidentified protester standing in the Jeep’s path tells the driver to stop, then jumps out of the way.

The Jeep continues toward another protester, the one operating the video camera, and the protester moves out of the way to avoid being hit. The video does not show the moment the Kia hits the Jeep.

This screengrab from a video posted on Facebook shows an unidentified protester backing out of the way of a Jeep on South Howard Avenue on Tuesday night. Seconds later, a protester behind the wheel of the white Kia Soul partially visible in the right of the frame pulled forward, striking the Jeep on the driver's side. The moment of impact was not captured in the video. [ Facebook ]

The Jeep driver travels a short distance then stops at another point where the street is blocked. Tampa police officers arrive.

The video doesn’t show anyone hitting the Jeep with their fists.

An account of the incident, posted along with a segment of the video at the Str34mtv Facebook page, says the driver of the Kia saw that the Jeep driver was moving and “swerves to slow her down in an attempt to save the marchers lives, hitting her vehicle in the process.”

Munoz was released from jail early Wednesday morning after posting $9,500 bail.

Another protester, 42-year-old Dezeray Rubinchik of Tampa, was arrested on a charge of resisting an officer without violence after refusing to leave an area blocked off by crime scene tape, police said.

Neither Munoz nor Rubinchik could be immediately reached Wednesday.

This screengrab from a video posted on Facebook shows the damage to a Jeep Cherokee after the driver of a Kia ran into it during a protest on South Howard Avenue on Tuesday. [ Facebook ]

Protesters have complained that police have targeted protesters, not the drivers who put lives at risk by driving through demonstrations.

Passmore was struck by a pickup during a June 21 protest in Hyde Park. No arrests have been made. Tampa police said they have turned that case over to the Hillsborough State Attorney’s Office.

Six days later, protester Jason Stuart Flores wound up on the hood of a Volkswagen that drove through protesters. Flores was arrested and charged with felony criminal mischief, among other counts. Police let the Volkswagen driver go.

One driver has been criminally charged. The State Attorney’s Office announced this month that it was pursuing a reckless driving charge against 21-year-old Noah Armstrong, accused of driving his Ford sedan through a July 4 protest on Dale Mabry Highway in Tampa.

• • •

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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