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Pasco jury acquits Black Lives Matter protester of battery on police officer

It took less than two hours for a jury to find local activist Marlowe Jones not guilty.
Activist Marlowe Jones speaks during a Black Lives Matter rally held outside the West Pasco Judicial Center in 2020. A jury acquitted him this week of charges of battery on a police officer and resisting arrest related to an arrest at a protest.
Activist Marlowe Jones speaks during a Black Lives Matter rally held outside the West Pasco Judicial Center in 2020. A jury acquitted him this week of charges of battery on a police officer and resisting arrest related to an arrest at a protest. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]
Published May 6|Updated May 6

NEW PORT RICHEY — It was a two-day trial that was two years in the making. But it took less than two hours Thursday for a Pasco jury to find Black Lives Matter protester Marlowe Jones not guilty of battery on a law enforcement officer.

Jones was charged with resisting an officer without violence and battery on a law enforcement officer — a third-degree felony — after a New Port Richey police officer said Jones “tapped his shoulder” and “pushed his hand away” at a Black Lives Matter rally in July 2020 during the height of the nationwide racial justice movement sparked by the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Had Jones, 31, been found guilty, he could have been sentenced to up to five years in prison.

Instead, according to defense lawyer Andrew Darling, a six-person jury sided with Jones’ account and multiple videos of the encounter over the single testimony presented by the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney’s Office — the account of arresting officer Nicholas Rickus. According to New Port Richey police, Rickus left the department last year of his own accord. He did not respond to phone calls Friday seeking comment.

Related: Pasco activist says New Port Richey police targeted protesters

Jones is taking a break from media interviews for now, he wrote in a Facebook post immediately after the trial, but in a written statement said that “words cannot express how it feels to be victorious.”

“For the past two years of my life I was persecuted by the state attorney’s office and the NPR Police Department on false charges,” the statement said. “And today in court it was shown and it was proven that the truth does matter.”

According to an arrest report, Jones was taking part in a march through downtown New Port Richey when a fight broke out between a bar patron and a female protester. Patrick Oshnock, a white man from Colorado, came out of a bar and began arguing with activist Stephanie Hinkle, eventually pushing her down.

Oshnock was arrested at the scene on a misdemeanor battery charge, jail records show. His case is still pending, court records show.

Hinkle was lawfully carrying a concealed firearm at the time, police said, and officers at the scene yelled for protesters to get back as they tried to break up the fight and secure the gun.

Jones had run to Hinkle’s aid, and when Rickus intervened, Jones’ arrest report says he tapped the officer’s shoulder and began to repeatedly yell that “she had nothing to do with it.”

Rickus’ report of the incident says he saw Jones “abruptly turn to his left and reach into his waistband/groin area of his pants,” then, when the officer told him to move his hands away, Jones turned back toward him while slightly lifting his shirt — “making a physical motion as if he was reaching and preparing to pull out a weapon from his waistband.”

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The officer yelled at Jones to “keep your hands out of your pants” while simultaneously grabbing his right wrist, the report says. The report says Jones pushed his hands away, saying “don’t you touch me, you can’t touch me.”

In court, however, the officer had trouble pointing that motion out to the jury in the multiple videos provided by other BLM protestors and a fellow officer’s body-worn camera, Darling said.

Darling said his law firm represented more than 20 arrested protesters in central Florida during the height of the protests, with every case being dismissed almost immediately except for Jones’. Jones was adamant he had done nothing wrong and turned down offers for pretrial diversion to prove his innocence in court.

The case against Jones was “baseless on its face,” Darling said. “More than 60 people plus officers were around that night and nobody other than the one single officer alleged it happened.”

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