TAMPA — Prosecutors are dropping charges against a protester who clung to the hood of a car driven through a demonstration in Hyde Park in June, according to his attorney.
Jason Stuart Flores, 35, was charged with felony criminal mischief and three misdemeanors after the incident on June 27. Flores' attorney, Gretchen Cothron, said Wednesday that a prosecutor on the case informed her of the decision by email Tuesday night.
The email from Hillsborough Assistant State Attorney Chinwe O. Fossett does not explain why the charges were dropped. A spokesman for Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren said the office hasn’t taken action on the charges yet and could not comment.
“I’m very pleased that justice was served,” Cothron told the Tampa Bay Times. “It’s unfortunate that he was arrested in the first place but he did receive justice through the State Attorney’s Office investigation.”
Tampa police spokeswoman Jamel Laneè said the department had not yet been informed of the decision to drop the charges.
News that the charges would be dropped first was reported Wednesday by Creative Loafing Tampa Bay.
Advocates for Flores have criticized the Tampa Police Department for its handling of the incident, saying officers should have arrested the driver instead of Flores.
Protesters said they were having a moment of silence on Albany Avenue when the driver of a Volkswagen started edging toward them without stopping. The driver turned right onto Swann and drove away with one protester, later identified as Flores, clinging to the hood.
Part of the incident was captured on video and a Times reporter was present.
Flores' arrest report says the male driver — referred to only as “the victim” — was heading east on Swann Avenue just west of Albany Avenue “when he approached a group of protesters gathered in the roadway causing him to stop his vehicle." In fact, the driver approached protesters as he was headed north on Albany Avenue, not around the corner on Swann, as the arrest report says.
“As the victim attempted to turn away from the protesters, several blocked his path of movement by standing in (the) roadway causing him to stop his vehicle,” the report states. “Some of the protesters then began to hit and kick his vehicle at which time the defendant, Jason Flores, jumped on the hood of the victim’s vehicle and began to strike the windshield, causing it to shatter.”
Flores also damaged the hood, causing a total of about $2,000 in damage, according to the arrest report. In addition, Flores resisted officers by “bracing/tensing and pulling away" as they took him into custody, the report says.
Flores was taken to a local hospital to be treated for minor injuries and booked into the jail later that night on charges of felony criminal mischief, unlawful assembly, obstructing a highway and resisting a law enforcement officer without violence. He was released the next day after posting bail of $3,250.
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The criminal mischief charge is a third-degree felony because police said the damage to the car was greater than $1,000, the threshold set by Florida law.
Flores is an activist with the organization Florida Indigenous Rights and Environmental Equality. In a statement after Flores' arrest, the group took issue with the arrest report, saying videos showed the driver could have driven around them or pulled off into a nearby Winn-Dixie parking lot.
A video provided to a Times reporter on the scene shows part of the incident. Flores is wearing a brown brimmed hat and cloth around his face as the Volkswagen approaches him.
About a week and a half later, police arrested another protester, 32-year-old Getulio Gonzalez-Mulattieri of Pametto, in connection with the incident.
Gonzalez-Mulattieri got in front of the Volkswagen to prevent the driver from passing, according to his arrest report. The driver, who is not named in the arrest report, told police he didn’t know people were gathered for a protest and he continued to drive forward at an estimated 1 mph because he feared for his safety.
Gonzalez-Mulattieri “aggressively began hitting” the car, the arrest report says, denting the hood and shattering the windshield. Still in fear for his safety, the report says, the driver drove around Gonzalez-Mulattieri but Gonzalez-Mulattier began hitting the driver’s side window.
At that point, Flores, identified as a co-defendant in the Gonzalez-Mulattieri arrest report, jumped onto the hood of the car and struck the windshield, “also causing damage," the report says.
The Volkswagen driver traveled several blocks with Flores on the hood, stopping when he saw a marked patrol car, according to the arrest report. Gonzalez-Mulattieri ran up to the scene and told officers he struck the windshield in self-defense because the driver was trying to hit him, the report says.
Officers warned Gonzalez-Mulattieri a number of times to keep his distance from the scene and at one point he struck an officer’s arm and pushed past another officer, the arrest report says.
Records show Gonzalez-Mulattieri was arrested July 7 and booked into the Hillsborough County jail on charges of felony criminal mischief, assault, battery on a law enforcement officer and resisting a law enforcement officer without violence. He was released the next day after posting bail of $4,750, records show.
Court records show the case is still pending. An attorney for Gonzalez-Mulattieri listed in court records did not immediately return a call for comment Wednesday.
Attorney Cothron said Flores is relieved that his charges are being dropped and is eager to have returned the spiritual items taken as evidence during his arrest, including an abalone shell and a feather. He also has medical bills from the incident.
“Now with the criminal charges being dropped, he can pursue a civil suit or insurance claim against the man who hit him,” Cothron said.
Prosecutors have dropped charges filed in earlier protest-related incidents. Earlier this month, Warren announced he was dropping charges against several anti-racism protesters and organizers while pursuing 264 charges, most stemming from a night of civil unrest May 30.
Warren also filed a reckless driving charge against a man who drove through a July 4 protest in Tampa.
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Coverage of local and national protests from the Tampa Bay Times
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.