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No arrest of driver who struck Tampa protester, prosecutors say

The Hillsborough County State Attorney’s Office said it couldn’t definitively identify the person behind the wheel during the June incident.

TAMPA — No charges will be filed in the case of the driver of a pickup truck seen driving into a protester during a June demonstration in Hyde Park Village, the office of Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren announced Friday.

Prosecutors called the incident a crime but said investigators cannot definitively identify the person behind the wheel. Therefore, no arrest can be made, officials said.

There was a demonstration at a Hyde Park Village intersection on June 21 when a red pickup truck approached. The man driving the truck yelled at protesters, witnesses told the Tampa Bay Times at the time, then accelerated into Jae Passmore. The incident was caught on video and shared on social media.

Related: Pickup driver curses, slams into protest leader at Hyde Park Village demonstration
Jae Passmore, left, raises her fist during a protester press conference at Lykes Gaslight Square Park in Tampa on Aug. 14, 2020.
Jae Passmore, left, raises her fist during a protester press conference at Lykes Gaslight Square Park in Tampa on Aug. 14, 2020. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

Passmore is a community organizer and National Guard veteran who emerged as a prominent voice during the summer of protests against police violence and racial injustice. She suffered several injuries, including a concussion. After the incident, she appeared at protests in the following weeks wearing dark sunglasses and a protective boot.

It was one of several incidents during demonstrations around Tampa Bay in which motorists drove into crowds of protesters. Demonstrators have repeatedly criticized the Tampa Police Department, which conducted the investigation with the State Attorney’s Office and the FBI, for failing to make an arrest in the June 21 incident.

Passmore on Friday told the Tampa Bay Times that she was disappointed, but not surprised, with the outcome of the investigation.

“For the whole summer, people in the Tampa Bay area have gathered together to demand that the lives of Black people be treated with simple, human dignity and respect," she said, "and time and time again we have seen the people in power in this city look the other way at those cries.”

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

Investigators interviewed Passmore and more than a dozen witnesses, showed them photo lineups and analyzed several videos, according to the State Attorney’s Office. But nobody could identify the driver.

Investigators tracked down the truck’s registered owner, who refused to be interviewed or cooperate with the investigation, prosecutors said. The office did not release the name of that driver.

But knowing the owner’s identity wasn’t enough to prove their case, prosecutors said.

“Under Florida law, for crimes such as Aggravated Battery, identifying the registered owner is not the same as identifying the person behind the wheel when the incident happened," the State Attorney’s Office said. "To charge a person with a crime, prosecutors must be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the suspect was the person controlling the vehicle at the time.”

Related: Prominent civil rights attorney Ben Crump to represent Tampa activist struck by car

The agency said the case could be reopened in the future if new information emerges.

“Turning your vehicle into a weapon can never be tolerated in our community,” the State Attorney’s Office said.

In September, the office filed a reckless driving charge against 21-year-old Noah Armstrong, who’s accused of pulling around several other cars that were stopped when a Fourth of July protest blocked an intersection on N Dale Mabry Highway, then driving through the crowd of demonstrators. Video showed a car driving through the protesters, who had to dart out of the way to avoid being hit.

Armstrong has pleaded not guilty to the charge.

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