JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Days after protests in Jacksonville’s streets about police brutality and the death of George Floyd, some demonstrators who were arrested were just getting out of jail on Tuesday.
Authorities said a total of 79 people were arrested at downtown protests Saturday and Sunday. Most were charged with unlawful assembly while others also had resisting arrest charges. 62 were from Duval County.
Some said they were held wrongfully for more than 48 hours, claiming they were peacefully protesting and never broke the law.
Tuesday afternoon, Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams responded to the questions and concerns from the public, in a conversation with City Council members and reporters.
“They have a constitutional right to do that and we have a duty to protect that,” Williams said. “And we will always do that. However, as soon as the first block is thrown fire is lit it is no longer a peaceful protest. You can’t go from breaking the law, back to peaceful protests breaking the law back up. We’re not gonna allow that to happen. We can do that because we were trying to protect our city.”
Williams said around 3,000 protesters gathered in downtown Jacksonville Saturday before some people got violent.
“Six JSO cars were damaged, along with one Jacksonville Fire Rescue vehicle," Williams said.
He said certain protesters started attacking officers. One police officer was slashed in the neck, two were hit by bricks, one was hit by a tree limb. They will all be OK, Williams said.
Among the arrests getting attention is that of 31-year-old Coricia Campbell, a Marine Corps veteran who was sitting in the street in front of the Florida Theater Saturday afternoon.
“We just sat down in peaceful protest, had our hands raised, had our bags open so they could see we weren’t carrying weapons,” she told News4Jax.
Campbell was insistent she had no intention of causing problems or getting arrested. She’s seen sitting cross-legged in the road in several videos posted online. The videos don’t show any prior contact or communication with officers, who were wearing riot gear.
“I’ve been raised to respect police my whole life,” Campbell said. “I was prior service military. I’m not a violent offender and we weren’t doing anything wrong.”
Video shows police marching toward her and others and arresting her. Her friend, a white woman, was pushed away but not arrested.
Campbell said she was the only one in the group handcuffed and was held in isolation at the Duval County jail for 48 hours, without access to medical care for a chronic condition and without the ability to call anyone.
“It is probably one of the most horrifying experiences of my life, and I deployed to Iraq,” she said.
News4Jax has received similar complaints from some of the other protesters arrested in Jacksonville over the weekend, many just bonding out Tuesday morning.
"Nothing was thrown,” said Alexander All, who was released from jail Tuesday morning after his arrest. “I was literally one of the first people to get arrested during that gathering on the bridge. Nothing was going on.”
Councilwoman Ju’Coby Pittman pressed Sheriff Williams about the arrests and claims that bonds were raised for protesters.
“We didn't add any charges and we don't increase bond so you know the way the bond is a function of the state attorney, talking to the judge,” he said at a later news conference. “I've heard that too. I don't know what the process was for that to have occurred, so I don't have an answer for you.”
State Attorney Melissa Nelson responded to concerns with a brief statement:
“During this period of unrest, we will continue to work with law enforcement to protect peaceful protests taking part in our city. Those who use violence or destroy property will be prosecuted. And, as I have always done, I will continue to work with community-based organizations and individuals to find solutions to make our justice system and community better for everyone.”
Attorney John Phillips, who represents three protesters who were arrested, believes many demonstrators were arrested and charged unlawfully and their rights were violated upon detention.
“They have the right not to be held beyond reason,” Phillips said. “And 48 hours on a case that any other day of the week would’ve been released on their own recognizance within 12 hours, is unreasonable.”
Phillips, who represents Campbell, said she had no reason to be arrested.
“She was selectively arrested and done so without any warning at a peaceful, allowed protest,” he noted. “I was at this protest earlier.”
News4Jax emailed the following questions to the Sheriff about Campbell’s case:
“Why was she singled out from the crowd and arrested when videos show she was sitting like everyone else? Also, why did it take 48 hours to get out of jail, according to her, without access to medical care or the ability to call a loved one?”
The questions have not been answered as of the time of this posting.
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💥UPDATE💥 Y’all are truly amazing. Our community is amazing. We have assisted in bail posting for 31 Jax residents that had their civil liberties violated and are continuing to post bail for more. 27 of these people are currently free as a result of YOUR calls last night! Stay tuned as we’ll be releasing more information and updates over the next few days. #BlackLivesMatter #PoliceAccountabilityNOW