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Courts / Law

Pinellas County Protesters Jailed Overnight, Gualtieri Blames Violence Toward Police

Pinellas County Sheriff Gualtieri pictured standing at a podium surrounded by law enforcement officers.
WUSF Public Media
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri requested protesters be kept in jail overnight until they could be seen by a judge.

Despite court guidelines to release people accused of unlawful assembly, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri requested that more than 35 protesters arrested on that charge last week be held in jail until they could be seen by a judge.

In an interview with Josh Solomon of the Tampa Bay Times, Gualtieri said the "attack on law enforcement" and "civil unrest" made these protests unique, saying that many protesters were probably undercharged.

The arrest reports tell a different story, with most reports indicating only a refusal to follow dispersal orders. Very few officers reported violence from protesters.

In court the following day, bail for all arrested protesters was set at $1,000, four times the recommended amount for the second-degree misdemeanor of unlawful assembly.  

"I thought it was appropriate that a judge weigh in on this," Gualtieri told Solomon. "That's what it's for, so they can hear arguments, hear evidence, and decide what is the appropriate amount."

Stephen Thompson is a spokesman for the Sixth Judicial Circuit Court, covering both Pinellas and Pasco counties. In a statement to Solomon, he said the bail schedule is only a "recommended starting point."

"Chief Judge Rondolino wanted the judge at advisories to hear the circumstances of each defendant's arrest, as well as the defendant's criminal background," wrote Thompson. "There was a concern some people might have been using what were largely peaceful protests as a cover for criminal activity."

Some protesters voiced concerns about being held overnight during the coronavirus pandemic, as well as facing costly bail during a time of high unemployment.

"I think if you arrest someone for unlawful assembly, there's a chance the unlawful assembly is still going on," Gualtieri told Solomon. "You don't want to send them right back to the unlawful assembly. So the bail decisions don't give me any heartburn."

In a statement released Tuesday, sheriff's officials said six Pinellas jail employees - three inmate records specialists, two detention deputies, and a social worker - as well as one patrol deputy have tested positive for coronavirus as of June 8.

The overnight holds are occurring just a few months after Gualtieri stated that he intended to reduce bookings and isolate new inmates to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

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