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Cuba protesters in Tampa held without bail because of ‘anti-riot’ law, records show

The two men face charges including unlawful assembly, which prompted authorities to hold them in jail until their first court appearance.
Protesters block Dale Mabry Highway in Tampa in solidarity with ongoing protests in Cuba Tuesday in Tampa.
Protesters block Dale Mabry Highway in Tampa in solidarity with ongoing protests in Cuba Tuesday in Tampa. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published Jul. 14
Updated Jul. 15

TAMPA — Two men arrested in Tampa during Tuesday’s protests against the Cuban government appear to be among the first Tampa Bay defendants held under Florida’s divisive new “anti-riot” law.

Julian Rodriguez-Rodriguez, 30, of Tampa and Maikel Vasquez-Pico, 39, of Riverview, were arrested by Tampa police on charges of battery on a law enforcement officer, resisting law enforcement and taking part in an unlawful assembly that blocked streets or sidewalks, records show.

Until a few months ago, Rodriguez-Rodriguez and Vasquez-Pico would have been able to post bail immediately according a pre-set bond schedule. But jail records show that both men were being held Wednesday until their first appearance in court because of HB 1, the bill passed by the Republican-led Legislature and championed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, who signed it into law in April.

Related: Cuba protesters block Tampa streets Tuesday night, three arrested

Among its many provisions, the law states that anyone arrested on unlawful assembly charges must be held without bail until a first appearance in court, when a judge decides what, if any, bail amount should be set. The law added several other charges to the list of offenses, such as rioting and mob intimidation, that require defendants be held until they first appear before a judge.

A day after DeSantis signed HB 1 into law, Hillsborough’s Chief Circuit Judge Ronald Ficarrotta signed an administrative order updating the uniform bond schedule to reflect the changes set by the new law.

Rodriguez-Rodriguez and Vazquez-Pico are accused of violating Section 14-41 of Tampa’s code of ordinances, which prohibits people “from gathering and standing in groups upon the streets, avenues and sidewalks of the city in such a manner as to obstruct the free passage of persons or vehicles upon the sidewalks or streets of the city.” A violation is a second-degree misdemeanor.

Hillsborough County jail records cite “HB-1″ and Ficarrotta’s administrative order in holding Rodriguez-Rodriguez and Vazquez-Pico without bail on the unlawful assembly charge until their first court appearance, which is set for Thursday.

A third man, 34-year-old Evelio Ramirez-Carrasco of Tampa, was also arrested on charges of unlawful assembly and resisting a law enforcement officer without violence — both misdemeanors — in connection with the protests. Ramirez-Carrasco was given a notice to appear in court, not booked into jail like the other two protesters, according to his arrest reports. Ramirez-Carrasco qualified for a notice to appear because of his charges while the other two men did not, a Tampa police spokeswoman said in an email.

According to arrest reports, Vazquez-Pico, Rodriguez-Rodriguez and Ramirez-Carrasco were among protesters who blocked traffic at Dale Mabry Highway and Interstate 275 on Tuesday. Police blocked the entrance and exit ramps to Interstate 275 to keep the crowd off the highway.

Shortly after 6 p.m., the reports state, police used a public address system to order the crowds to disperse. About 45 minutes later, Vazquez-Pico and Rodriguez-Rodriguez tried to walk onto the interstate from the Dale Mabry entrance ramp.

Julian Rodriguez-Rodriguez is accused of placing an officer in a bear hug.
Julian Rodriguez-Rodriguez is accused of placing an officer in a bear hug. [ Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office ]

The arrest report for Rodriguez-Rodriguez says he put an officer into a bear hug as the officer was trying to arrest another protester. Rodriguez-Rodriguez then punched an officer in the face as the officer tried to arrest him, breaking the officer’s glasses, according to the report. He continued to resist until an officer was able to put him in handcuffs.

Rodriguez-Rodriguez faces a charge of resisting law enforcement with violence, a third-degree felony, and two counts of battery on a law enforcement officer, records show.

Vazquez-Pico struck the hand of an officer who tried to block his path, a report states. He then ran across Dale Mabry to the northbound I-275 exit ramp and grabbed a police sergeant from behind as the sergeant tried to take another protester into custody, according to the report.

Vazquez-Pico then tensed and pulled away in an apparent attempt to escape when officers tried to arrest him, the report states. Officers used an electroshock weapon to get him to comply. He is charged with resisting without violence, a first-degree misdemeanor. He also faces one count of battery on a law enforcement officer.

Maikel Vazquez-Pico is accused of grabbing a police sergeant from behind.
Maikel Vazquez-Pico is accused of grabbing a police sergeant from behind. [ Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office ]

The third man, Ramirez-Carrasco, refused officers’ commands and continued to resist and “tense up” as two officers tried to arrest him, according to an arrest report.

HB 1 requires anyone convicted of the new offense of battery on a police officer “during or in furtherance of a riot” to receive a mandatory-minimum jail sentence of six months. The three men arrested in Tampa on Tuesday are not accused of violating this law, according to the statute numbers cited in their arrest reports.

A Florida Highway Patrol trooper suffered a broken ankle and cuts to his arms and face while assisting Tampa officers during an arrest, according to Sgt. Steve Gaskins, a Highway Patrol spokesman. The trooper was taken to a local medical center for treatment, Gaskins said.

The Highway Patrol did not make any arrests, Gaskins said.

HB 1 was one of DeSantis’ top legislative priorities and was approved by the Legislature nearly a year after protests broke out across Florida and the nation following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Democrats, civil rights activists and other critics contend the law violates Floridians’ First Amendment rights, will disproportionately impact Black and brown people and will have a chilling effect on peaceful protesters.