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State says ‘no evidence’ Tampa protest leader incited a riot during June demonstration

Emadi Okwuosa was arrested June 4 during a peaceful protest in downtown Tampa. The case will not be prosecuted.
Emadi Okwuosa, 22, leads a May 30 protest at Curtis Hixon Park in downtown Tampa in response to the death of George Floyd, who was killed by a Minneapolis police officer days earlier.
Emadi Okwuosa, 22, leads a May 30 protest at Curtis Hixon Park in downtown Tampa in response to the death of George Floyd, who was killed by a Minneapolis police officer days earlier. [ OCTAVIO JONES | Special to the Times ]
Published Jul. 28, 2020

TAMPA — Hillsborough prosecutors will not pursue a criminal case against a man who was arrested last month while leading a peaceful protest in downtown Tampa, saying there is “no evidence” against him.

Emadi Okwuosa, 22, was arrested by Tampa police June 4 on a charge of inciting a riot.

Prosecutors filed a “letter of release” on Monday indicating they will not take the case to trial.

“He is very grateful that the truth prevailed and the state did the right thing,” said Okwuosa’s attorney, Michelle Lambo, in a statement. “However it is scary to know that people out there who didn’t have the same support and attention were falsely accused and imprisoned due to the abuse of power by the Tampa Police Department.”

A Tampa Police Department spokeswoman declined to comment Tuesday.

Related: Pinellas officials will not prosecute 35 demonstrators arrested in June protests

Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren’s office released a statement late Tuesday explaining the decision not to pursue the case.

“There is no evidence he was doing anything other than peacefully protesting,” the statement read. “To prosecute for inciting a riot, we would need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt he was stirring people to act in a violent and turbulent manner; there is no evidence that was happening. We will continue to work with law enforcement to prosecute looters who cause destruction to protect public safety, while supporting the voices of peaceful protest in our community. "

Okwuosa, 22, has helped organize several demonstrations in Tampa since the the death of George Floyd, a Black man who was killed May 25 by a Minneapolis police officer.

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

His arrest happened in the area on N Scott Street and E Tampa Street. Police officers wrote in an arrest report that he spoke through a megaphone, telling demonstrators to throw objects.

Okwuosa later denied that allegation in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times. Videos from the protest also did not show any evidence of rioting or inciting a riot, his attorney said. Okwuosa told the Times he believed police were targeting protest leaders in an effort to quell the daily demonstrations against police violence and racial injustice.

Stephanie Sanchez was arrested at the same time as Okwuosa and managed to record a few seconds of video of his arrest. Officers claimed she tried to hit them, but she later told the Times that was not true. Prosecutors dropped case against her July 13.

Related: Hillsborough declines to prosecute 67 arrested in protests