Ben Crump, one of the nation’s most prominent civil rights attorneys, has joined the legal team for a Tampa Black Lives Matter activist who was struck by a car during a protest.
Jae Passmore, and her criminal defense attorney, Gretchen Cothron, confirmed Friday that Crump will represent Passmore. Cothron will stay on as well.
“I feel good,” Passmore said Friday. “I feel confident that Benjamin Crump joining my legal team provides another layer of expertise and commitment in the fight against civil rights injustice.”
Passmore has become well-known as a protester in Tampa over the past two months. She has broadly criticized the Tampa Police Department’s handling of protests, which has often involved use of force and the arrests of protesters, and has led calls for Mayor Jane Castor to fire police Chief Brian Dugan. Passmore has also accused Tampa police of targeting her.
In June, Passmore was protesting in Hyde Park Village when a pickup truck driver swore at protesters before speeding forward and hitting Passmore, then driving away, according to protesters, witnesses and footage posted on social media. Passmore suffered a concussion and an injured ankle and pelvis. The driver has not been arrested.
On Thursday, Crump tweeted a video of the incident.
“@TampaPD knows the driver’s identity but refuses to provide it citing an ‘open investigation,’” he wrote. “#BlackTwitter detectives, who can find the truck driver’s identity?”
Crump could not immediately be reached for comment Friday. On Twitter Thursday night, he also shared a flier for a Saturday protest at Joe Chillura Courthouse Square in Tampa, during which Passmore and other activists will speak on police brutality.
Cothron said police have refused to provide her or Passmore with updates into their investigation and have put the onus on Passmore to provide photos and videos and produce witnesses. Cothron said that case is now being investigated by the FBI as a hate crime. An FBI spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.
The Tampa Police Department has previously said that it has interviewed witnesses and collected video in the hit-and-run.
“The Tampa Police Department is not targeting Passmore,” said Jamel Laneè, a spokeswoman for Tampa police on Friday. “The case remains under investigation. Detectives have reached out to key witnesses to gain cooperation.”
On Aug. 12, Tampa police arrested Passmore after a confrontation between protesters and a pro-police group outside City Hall. Though police accused Passmore of slapping a pro-police demonstrator in the back of the head, the video police released of the incident told a different story. It shows a man stepping into Passmore’s path as she’s walking, cutting her off, and her responding by pushing him on the back of his shoulder.
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Police arrested Passmore later that day, pinning her to the ground as they handcuffed her. She was injured during the arrest and taken to the hospital, but not jailed. Cothron said prosecutors have not filed charges in that case.
Cothron said she’s unsure what the next steps are for the legal team now that Crump is involved, or whether those steps will include a civil rights lawsuit. Crump only officially joined the team Thursday, she said — not long after she sent him a “hail Mary” email asking for his help.
“He’s so well known, and he’s such a phenomenal attorney — he’s one of my heroes,” Cothron said. “I want to do whatever I can to get Jae justice.”
Over the past 15 years, Crump has gone from being a Tallahassee-based personal-injury lawyer to representing the families of Black people killed in some of the high-profile cases that have fueled the civil rights movement in the last decade: Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and, now, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
Crump has also represented Tampa Bay clients before. In 2018, he signed on to represent the girlfriend of Markeis McGlockton, a 28-year-old Black father who was shot and killed by a white man in a Clearwater parking lot.
Police did not initially arrest the shooter, Michael Drejka, who claimed he was shooting in self-defense after McGlockton shoved him the ground. The lack of an arrest touched off weeks of protests and triggered a national debate about race and self-defense.
Crump was a regular figure at the events, sometimes appearing at court hearings with his client, Britney Jacobs. He made headlines when, during a news conference, he described the shooting as “cold-blooded murder ... by the self-appointed, wannabe cop Michael Drejka.” Crump also joined the Rev. Al Sharpton at a rally calling for a repeal of Florida’s controversial stand-your-ground law and for Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri to, as Sharpton said, lock Drejka up “or give up your badge.”
Crump worked closely with Michele Rayner, a Clearwater civil rights lawyer who made history this week as one of the first out queer Black women elected to the state legislature. Rayner represented McGlockton’s parents.
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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.
HEADING TO A PROTEST? How to protect eyes from teargas, pepper spray and rubber bullets.