JSO: 6 arrested after fight erupts at Syria airstrike demonstration

1 injured in Hemming Park altercation that was captured on cellphone video

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Six people were arrested Friday night after a fight, which was captured on cellphone video, erupted at a demonstration that was attended by both people in support of and people against military action in Syria, the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office said.

Violence broke out just before 6:30 p.m. when two groups with opposing political views got into a debate at Hemming Park.

The Jacksonville Progressive Coalition was protesting the United States' missile attack on a Syrian government airbase when supporters of President Donald Trump arrived to stage an anti-protest, and a fight broke out. 

Police officers came in to try to break the fight up and that's when some of the protesters began hitting officers, Lt. Jimmy Judge, of the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, said.

"If you strike a police officer in uniform in Jacksonville, you’re going to be arrested. (It) doesn’t matter what side you’re on," Judge said. 

Several witnesses recorded videos of the altercation on their cellphones. One protester said police used excessive force. 

RAW: Cellphone footage captures fight break out at protest

"What I witnessed was some of the worst brutality I’ve seen in my life. In fact, the worst brutality," Richard Blake said. "I remember one of the protesters who is a veteran for peace, a Vietnam vet, was being held in a chokehold by one cop while another repeatedly punched him in the face. I also remember one of the protesters, who was giving a speech at the time, the cops ran in was being held down with a Taser on his back while one cop punched him in the face and another cop punched him in the kidney."

Judge said that it was a chaotic scene.

According to the Sheriff's Office, six people were arrested, including Connell Crooms, who was taken to UF Health to be treated for non-life-threatening injuries that he suffered in the altercation.

"A member of the Jacksonville Progressive Coalition started to confront the JSO officer. A JSO officer tried to restrain him and Connell resisted that officer. That quickly escalated into a confrontation and Connell continued to resist the police officer and he was forcefully arrested," said Trump supporter Garry Snow. 

No officers were hurt in the incident. 

"This isn’t an easy line to walk. We’re here to protect their right to protest lawfully. But we also have to protect the public, and we have to take any action to protect," Judge said. 

These are the names of the six arrested and the charges they face:

  • Thomas Beckham, 26, of Hilliard, is charged with resisting officer with violence and affray.
  • Connell Crooms, 26, of Jacksonville, is charged with resisting officer with violence and inciting a riot.
  • Christina Kittle, 27, of Middleburg, is charged with assault on a law enforcement officer and inciting a riot. 
  • David Schneider, 27, of Jacksonville, is charged with inciting a riot.
  • Robert Sheffield Jr., 67, is charged with affray.
  • William Wilder, 74, of Jacksonville, faces charges of assault on a law enforcement officer, inciting a riot, depriving an officer of means of protection or communication, marijuana possession and possession of drug paraphernalia. 

According to records, Crooms and Sheffield are repeat offenders. In 2015, Crooms was convicted of trespassing and resisting arrest. Sheffield has been convicted of various crimes dating back to burglary and dealing in stolen property charges in 1989.

Additionally, Sheffield has been convicted of:

  • 2008, sexual battery: victim less than 12 years old, lewd, lascivious or indecent act.
  • 2008, failure to comply with sexual offender requirements
  • 2009, fugitive wanted in other jurisdiction 
  • 2014, battery causing bodily harm domestic

Several hours after the fight, the Jacksonville Progressive Coalition released a statement saying the group planned to rally at noon Saturday outside the courthouse "to demand the release of their friends and fellow protesters."

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