Pasco activist says New Port Richey police targeted protesters

An onlooker started a fight during a July demonstration. Two protesters ended up being arrested. But New Port Richey police say the charges are merited.
Activist Marlowe Jones, 29, speaks during a Black Lives Matter rally held outside the West Pasco Judicial Center on June 10 in New Port Richey. Jones has accused New Port Richey police of targeting protesters after he was arrested. Police deny that allegation.
Activist Marlowe Jones, 29, speaks during a Black Lives Matter rally held outside the West Pasco Judicial Center on June 10 in New Port Richey. Jones has accused New Port Richey police of targeting protesters after he was arrested. Police deny that allegation. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]
Published Aug. 10, 2020

NEW PORT RICHEY — One of the leaders of Pasco County’s small Black Lives Matter protest movement said he believes he’s being targeted by police after he was arrested as a result of a fight that started when an onlooker attacked protesters last month.

Marlowe Jones, 29, faces charges of felony battery on a law enforcement officer and resisting an officer without violence. The incident took place on July 24, but he wasn’t arrested until a week later.

The incident occurred after police said they intervened in a fight after a march in the city’s downtown. During the altercation, the New Port Richey Police Department said Jones tapped an officer on the shoulder and later pushed the officer’s hand away when the officer grabbed him.

Jones was arrested July 31, a week later, after another protest. He said the charges are a sign that local police view protesters as the opposition. Police said the charges are legitimate and came after consulting with the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney’s Office.

Days after his arrest, he and other protesters addressed the New Port Richey City Council on Tuesday. They accused police of mistreating them and other failings, including neglecting to offer medical help and refusing to take their statements after the fight.

“We don’t come with violence,” Jones told the council. “We don’t come with anger, we don’t come with hate. We come with love. That’s why this is disturbing, and that’s why it hurts.”

Related: Protests are small in Pasco, but activists say the need for change is greater

The July 24 march — protesters have been marching through downtown New Port Richey every Friday — was winding down when demonstrators walked along Nebraska Avenue, past the backside of a bar called The Social. Then a man, later identified as 34-year-old Patrick Oshnock of Colorado, confronted them.

Protesters later said that they’d seen Oshnock earlier in the day: He stopped in the road on his motorcycle and yelled, “White lives matter.” Outside the Social, a video taken by protesters showed he pressed his face inches’ from protesters and shouted similar sentiments. Jones said he stepped in, trying to break up the conflict.

Then Oshnock spun away and lunged at another protester, knocking her to the ground, Jones said.

When officers arrived, they said they saw Oshnock and a protester, Stephanie Hinkle, fighting on the ground. They saw Oshnock strike her, according to an arrest report. Police said Hinkle had a gun — legally owned and carried, police said — and one officer pulled it from her waistband during the fight.

After the officers broke up the fight, according to the report, Jones tried to talk to the officer who had taken the gun. The officer said in a report that he did not secure the gun in his cruiser because he was afraid to leave his colleague “alone with that many irate people.”

He then told Jones to back away. Jones “lightly tapped” the officer on the shoulder, the officer wrote in a report. The officer then yelled at him.

As Jones turned away, police said, he “(reached) into his pants near his groin.” The officer assumed Jones was reaching for a gun and, still holding the unsecured gun in his other hand, grabbed Jones’ arm. But Jones pushed the officer’s hand away, the report said. Jones said he was unarmed, and there are no records that indicate he was armed that night.

Officers interviewed employees of nearby bars, who said Oshnock was apparently drunk and started the fight. But protesters have complained that they were not interviewed, and in their reports, officers only interviewed Jones.

Deputy Chief Lauren Letona said that was because officers “were never advised by any of the other protestors that anyone else was a potential victim.”

Hinkle was detained and officers said they found a handcuff key — which is a felony in Florida — in her back pocket. She and Jones were released. Oshnock was arrested and taken to jail on a misdemeanor battery charge. He said he was “defending police,” according to his arrest report.

Related: In Pasco, Black Lives Matter remembers the fallen, and John Lewis

A week later, as another protest was ending July 31, Jones said officers pulled up in an unmarked car and arrested Hinkle on a charge of possessing a handcuff key.

When the protesters went to the police station to find out why she had been arrested and how they could post bail, Jones said more officers came out to arrest him. He said he was shocked when he heard what the charge was. He said he was only trying to get the officer’s attention on July 24 to give his statement.

Letona said there is no body-worn camera footage of Jones touching the officer. She said officers waited a week to make the arrests because they wanted to review footage from nearby businesses and consult with the State Attorney’s Office. She said prosecutors agreed that the two protesters should be arrested.

“It seems to me New Port Richey police are making up charges as they go along,” Jones said.

When Jones and other protesters and activists aired their grievances to the New Port Richey City Council, they said the police department disregarded them and is acting “vengeful” because it opposes their movement. Pasco Pride president and CEO Nina Borders asked the council for an internal investigation into the arrests.

City council members were not swayed. Deputy Mayor Jeff Starkey criticized the protesters for being loud — Jones and Hinkle were both cited for noise violations, too — and marching downtown, “where people are trying to enjoy a night out.”

Mayor Rob Marlowe said the protesters couldn’t have been peaceful because Hinkle was armed and is accused of having a handcuff key.

Council member Matt Murphy said he’d known Police Chief Kim Bogart for many years and didn’t believe the officers would conduct themselves the way protesters described.

“While I don’t disagree that sometimes these things do happen,” he said, “I find it hard to believe.”

Jones said the City Council’s lack of concern was disheartening. The marches will continue, however.

“I take away that the city council didn’t give a damn,” he said.