Black Lives Matter protests: Hillsborough State Attorney drops some charges, pursues others

tampa police injure and arrest Jae Passmore

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Andrew Warren

Andrew Warren, Hillsborough County State Attorney and Wendy Malloy with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. By Seán Kinane / WMNF News (13 Dec. 2017).

The Hillsborough State Attorney’s Office released information Friday afternoon about charges related to Black Lives Matter protests that it is either pursuing or dropping.

For example, Andrew Warren’s office said it will not pursue criminal charges against protester Jae Passmore. Police charged her with battery saying she hit a counter-protester in the head. But the state attorney’s office described the incident this way: “she lightly pushed a man who walked closely by her.”

Noah Armstrong has been charged with reckless driving for steering his car through a group of protestors on July 4th.

The Hillsborough State Attorney also said his office would not pursue charges against these three groups of people involved in painting on public property in downtown Tampa: the people who painted a Back the Blue mural on a city street, the four people who painted over that mural and the seven people who painted a rainbow flag mural in Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park.

 

Listen to the 5:30 p.m. WMNF News headlines for 4 September 2020:

Listen to the 4:30 p.m. WMNF News headlines for 4 September 2020:

Listen to the 3:30 p.m. WMNF News headlines for 4 September 2020:

The full press release from the Hillsborough State Attorney is below:

Update on Protest-Related Cases

TAMPA, FL (September 4, 2020) – Like the rest of America, Hillsborough County continues to struggle with issues of racial injustice in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder. Although the voices of protest have already resulted in productive dialogue and promising reforms, we can do better. From our office’s exercise of prosecutorial discretion, to law enforcement agencies’ encounters with protestors, to citizens’ tolerance of differing opinions, there is room for improvement. The State Attorney’s Office remains committed to working with law enforcement partners, civic organizations, and grass-roots leaders to find additional solutions to minimize racial injustice and promote fairness for everyone. We are committed to transparency in our work and strive to keep the public updated on these cases. In keeping with previous announcements from mid-June and early July (attached), today we are providing the public information in some cases stemming from protest activity, including several cases where we have concluded our review and have made prosecutorial decisions:

  • Our office has filed 264 charges against 120 different people for crimes of looting, burglary, theft, and attacking police, with the majority of these cases stemming from widespread unrest in Tampa on the night of May 30. Two-thirds of these charges are felonies, each carrying a potential penalty of at least five years in prison if convicted.
  • Case No. 2020-CM-4501 – Defendant Adam Sartori has been charged with criminal mischief for vandalizing a police car on May 30. The evidence establishes the defendant willfully and maliciously damaged property.
  • Case Number Not Yet Assigned – Defendant Noah Armstrong has been charged with reckless driving for steering his car through a group of protestors on July 4. The evidence establishes the defendant drove his car with wanton disregard for the safety of others.
  • Case No. 2020-CM-6645 – Our office will not be pursuing criminal charges related to an incident on August 12 where it is alleged that suspect Jae Passmore committed battery when she lightly pushed a man who walked closely by her. Consistent with other similar cases, we are exercising our discretion not to expend limited resources prosecuting an extremely minor incident that presents in no threat to public safety.
  • Case No. 2020-CF-8291 – Our office will be dismissing false imprisonment charges against Defendants Sadie Dean and Torrie Grogan which resulted from a confrontation on June 27 in Hyde Park Village. After additional review of this case, we determined the evidence does not establish beyond a reasonable doubt the elements necessary for false imprisonment.
  • Case Number Not Yet Assigned – Our office will not pursue criminal charges against the individuals who painted a “Back the Blue” mural on public property on August 1 in Downtown Tampa without permission. The evidence available does not establish beyond a reasonable doubt the individuals responsible acted with willful or malicious intent to damage property as required under Florida law.
  • Case No. 2020-CM-6414, 6415, and 6416 – Our office will not pursue criminal charges against the four individuals who painted over the “Back the Blue” mural without permission. The evidence available does not establish beyond a reasonable doubt the individuals responsible acted with willful or malicious intent to damage property as required under Florida law.
  • Case No. 2020-CM-6329, 6330, 6331, 6332, 6333, 6336, and 6338 – Our office will not pursue criminal charges against the seven individuals who blocked a walkway and began to paint on public property in Curtis Hixon Park without permission. The evidence available does not establish beyond a reasonable doubt the individuals responsible acted with willful or malicious intent to damage property as required under Florida law.

These types of cases involve tough decisions. Our guiding principle is to distinguish between people committing crimes for personal gain or to cause destruction versus protestors whose aim is to make their voices heard. The 264 charges filed to date make it clear that we will prosecute those who seek to harm our community, but it is counterproductive to criminally prosecute people who are exercising their First Amendment rights—especially when other options exist to address questionable behavior, such as civil citations.

NOTE: The Criminal Report Affidavit for each of the detailed cases (when available) can be downloaded at this link: https://1drv.ms/u/s!AjMl2DqAimg9gssuttrUzpkYq-yhTg?e=9mXgy4