Charges will not be filed against 67 Tampa protesters who were arrested and accused of unlawful assembly two weeks ago.
During a news conference Monday, Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren said there was no evidence of violence or vandalism during the protest in downtown Tampa on June 2.
“I’ve said many times that criminal justice reform involves looking at each case as a problem to solve, not just a person to be punished,” Warren said in a statement. “In these unlawful assembly cases, there is no value in filing charges.
“Prosecuting people for exercising their First Amendment rights creates problems rather than solving them. It can weaken the bonds between law enforcement and the community, while undermining faith in our system.”
The arrests occurred after some of the protesters who had gathered peacefully became unruly, police said at the time.
According to police, some in the crowd of around 300 began throwing bricks and other items at officers near the federal courthouse, followed by throwing rocks at police cars and then bottles a short time later.
As the crowd continued marching, police said some of the protesters blocked traffic again along the Brorein Street Bridge, prompting some to climb on top of police cars on top of the bridge.
At that point, some in the crowd became violent and attempted to damage property, police said.
In the statement, Warren cited Florida law that says an “unlawful assembly” is a gathering of three or more people with a “common unlawful purpose” that must have an “intent to do an unlawful act which threatens the peace.”
The gathering must give “rational, firm, and courageous persons in the neighborhood of the assembly a well-grounded fear of a breach of the peace.”
“Based on our office’s review, the 67 cases outlined above do not meet that standard,” Warren said in the statement.
Warren said his office continues to investigate 200 arrests that occurred May 30 during protests that became violent along East Fowler Avenue and an area near Busch Gardens, including those 67 arrests.
While no arrests will take place following the June 2 protests, Warren stressed that his office “will prosecute anyone who tries to take advantage of the protests to commit crimes for personal gain or to cause destruction.”
“I want to make one thing clear: while we have no intention of prosecuting anyone who is peacefully protesting, we will not tolerate people looking to exploit this moment,” Warren said in the statement. “There is no place for violence or destruction that put the safety of our citizens—including our law enforcement officers—at risk.”
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