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Hillsborough prosecutors drop charges against Tampa protesters

Jamie Bullock and Chukwudi Uche were set to go to trial Wednesday. Then, prosecutors announced they would drop the most high-profile charges the pair faced.
Jamie Bullock stands with defense attorneys Michelle Lambo and Maria Pavlidis while addressing Judge Mark Kiser at the Hillsborough County Courthouse in Tampa on Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021. Bullock was arrested last summer after protesting to defund law enforcement in the wake of George Floyd.
Jamie Bullock stands with defense attorneys Michelle Lambo and Maria Pavlidis while addressing Judge Mark Kiser at the Hillsborough County Courthouse in Tampa on Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021. Bullock was arrested last summer after protesting to defund law enforcement in the wake of George Floyd. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published Oct. 6
Updated Oct. 6

TAMPA — Prosecutors on Wednesday dropped battery on law enforcement charges against two Tampa protesters, marking the end of a saga that became emblematic of issues central to the demonstrations against police brutality and racism.

Jamie Bullock and Chukwudi Uche were set to go to trial Wednesday on charges stemming from a July 4, 2020, protest to defund law enforcement in the wake of the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

But just before jury selection was set to begin, prosecutors with the Hillsborough State Attorney’s Office announced they would drop the most high-profile charges the pair faced. Battery on a law enforcement officer is a third-degree felony that carries a penalty of up to five years in prison.

“We received new evidence in the past few days — including bodycam video and interviews with defense witnesses — that had a direct impact on the State’s ability to prove all the required elements,” State Attorney’s spokesperson Grayson Kamm said.

Related: A Tampa protest trial: Was it free speech or was it a crime?

Defense attorneys for Bullock and Uche said they found additional videos in the last couple days that proved their clients didn’t commit the crimes they were accused of.

“If you watch those videos, it’s clear they used excessive force on her,” said Maria Pavlidis, one of the lawyers representing Bullock.

“That just shows they were lying from the beginning,” Bullock said.

Police said that Bullock slapped a lieutenant in the arm and that Uche threw a water bottle at an officer, but police and protester videos reviewed by the Tampa Bay Times paint a murkier picture.

Defense attorney Jessenia Rosales speaks with Chukwudi Uche before a hearing Wednesday at the Hillsborough County Courthouse.
Defense attorney Jessenia Rosales speaks with Chukwudi Uche before a hearing Wednesday at the Hillsborough County Courthouse. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

Additional charges Bullock, 22, and Uche, 23, faced were also resolved Wednesday through diversion programs, which allow participants to resolve their charges in exchange for taking steps such as community service or paying fees.

Uche agreed to participate in a pre-trial intervention program for charges of carrying a concealed firearm, a felony, and resisting arrest without violence, a misdemeanor. He will have to complete 50 hours of community service, give up the gun involved, write a letter of apology and regularly check in with the Florida Department of Corrections, among other requirements.

Bullock opted to participate in a misdemeanor intervention program for a charge of resisting arrest without violence. She will have to do 24 hours community service and pay about $350 in costs for the program.

Prosecutors initially tried to require a letter of apology to police as part of her requirements of completing the program, but she refused, and Kamm said prosecutors “ultimately agreed to move forward ... without the letter.”

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Both programs require that participants not be arrested again over before they’ve completed them. If Bullock and Uche complete their programs, the state will dismiss the remaining charges.

“I only took that because a trial would be really emotionally draining,” Bullock said, adding that she was grateful for all the support she’d received since her arrest more than a year ago. Supporters have attended hearings and gathered outside the courthouse as the cases have moved through the court system.

“With the support of the community,” she said, “I was able to make a decision today in my best interest.”