Five protesters arrested during a protest this year at the University of South Florida’s Tampa campus will not stand trial after they reached an agreement with prosecutors, the Hillsborough County State Attorney’s Office said Tuesday.
The group, which has come to be known as the “Tampa 5,” will be required to complete community service as part of a yearlong diversion program and will not be allowed on USF campuses for a year, except under specific conditions. In exchange, the charges against them will be dismissed.
Chrisley Carpio, Gia Davila, Jeanie Kida, Lauren Pineiro and Laura Rodriguez were arrested by campus police officers following a March 6 protest that ended at a building where USF President Rhea Law keeps her office. They were part of a group of about 25 people demanding that Law take action against state initiatives to restrict diversity programs.
The group was met by campus police and an altercation followed. Protesters claimed officers initiated the physical tussle, hitting, shoving and groping them. Police, who charged the students with trespassing and disruption of an educational facility, said the students then put their hands on officers and pushed one to the ground.
The clash was captured on video.
The five who were arrested were also charged with felony battery. Three were students at the time, one is a USF alumna and another was a USF employee who was later fired. The group faced up to 10 years of jail time, and four of them went on a tour across the country to talk about the case.
“This resolution brings closure to all parties, ensuring the defendants are held accountable for their actions,” a statement from the state attorney’s office said. “University campuses are bastions for free speech and learning, but the moment someone puts their hands on a law enforcement officer, a line is crossed, and consequences must follow.”
In a news conference outside the courthouse streamed on Instagram, the group hailed the resolution as a victory.
“They tried to attack the student movement and they failed,” Davila said.
Kida thanked the outpouring of support the group received around the country.
“I want to encourage everybody to continue standing up for what’s right, loving your neighbor,” Kida said. “We’re not going to win this fight if we’re divided.”
USF police said in a statement they looked forward to working with student groups moving forward “in furtherance of encouraging others to successfully accomplish their free speech goals in an equitable and responsible manner.”
They reiterated their stance that the matter “was never about a group exercising their right to free speech or police action to obstruct the expression of those rights” but instead “stemmed from the group’s aggressive behaviors directed toward officers when we attempted to escort them from the area for repeated refusal to cease disruptive activities.”
They added they “appreciate the support and confidence of all involved who worked, looking beyond the false narratives, to seek the truth.”
“It is our hope that all involved can benefit from the grace afforded them by the state attorney’s office and move on to have very successful and productive lives,” the police statement said. “We wish them well.”
• • •
Spotlight on education
The public is invited to a community conversation about the future of Florida public schools on Tuesday, Jan. 30, at the Tampa Theatre, hosted by the Tampa Bay Times. In the second installment of the Spotlight Tampa Bay series, Times journalists will moderate a discussion by experts, followed by a panel featuring students. Tickets are $20; $10 for students. Proceeds benefit the Times’ Journalism Fund. To purchase tickets, click here.