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Jacksonville Sheriff: Peaceful protest ends when first rock is thrown

Sheriff Mike Williams describes attacks on officers, 78 arrests over 2 days

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – After praising the organized protest of an estimated 3,000 people making their voices heard in a rally and march Saturday afternoon, Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams spoke Tuesday of the violence that erupted afterward and the next day.

The violence and its aftermath prompted a citywide curfew Sunday night and lingering tension Downtown.

“As soon as the first rock is thrown, fire is lit, it is no longer a peaceful protest,” Williams said.

The Sheriff’s Office said “field force” officers wearing tactical gear and elements of the SWAT team moved in and began trying to clear the streets. During the next few chaotic hours, Williams said that barricades, bottles, rocks and bricks were thrown, six JSO vehicles and one Jacksonville Fire-Rescue vehicle were damaged and several buildings were vandalized.

Williams said four officers were injured that night -- one slashed in the neck, two were hit with bricks and one was hit by other debris that was thrown.

Confirming much of what News4Jax was able to determine from JSO arrest records on Monday, Williams said there were 25 arrests on Saturday -- 23 of them Jacksonville residents -- and another 53 on Sunday -- 39 of them Duval County residents. Most of the rest were from around Florida, he said.

There was one more arrest on Monday of a man who had been so belligerent that Williams said even the protestors cheered when he was taken into custody.

Most of those arrested were charged with unlawful assembly and other misdemeanors.

After Saturday night’s violence, the Sheriff’s Office took an “incremental approach” Sunday to prevent things from getting out of control. Williams said after people were dropped off to join a group near the Duval County Courthouse, the crowd became confrontational and things were being thrown.

When the protestors tried to block the Main Street Bridge and other streets, they were ordered to disperse and given several avenues to leave. Those who challenged the police were arrested.

Williams said a Molotov cocktail, gas balloons and some crude weapons were confiscated over the weekend -- mostly from one person who he did not name. The sheriff said there were signs of some organization to the violence based on the items found.

“Not busloads of people from out of town, but it doesn’t take but two or three to aggravate a crowd that’s ready to boil over anyway," Williams said.

Williams said federal authorities would be digging into the backgrounds of those arrested.

Williams praised Mayor Lenny Curry for instituting a curfew for Sunday night, believing that was helpful to keep the violence from escalating.

Williams condemned last week’s killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, reading from an internal memo he wrote to SJO officers saying, “It was wrong. Each of the officers abandoned their duty and violated their sworn oath.”

Asked about continued calls for release of body-cam videos of Jacksonville officers in officer-involved deaths, Williams said the weekend protests were not about that. He acknowledged that JSO has yet to release body-cam video of a police-involved shooting, but that could change as soon as next week after the Response to Resistance Board takes up the July 2019 case of Officer Tyler Landreville.

Jacksonville police launched its body camera pilot program in November 2018. Since then, there have been 21 police shootings in which 23 people have been shot. Not all of the officers involved were wearing body cams. Of those 21 shootings, the state attorney’s office has ruled four of them were justifiable. Of those four, only one officer was wearing a body camera -- Landreville -- when he shot and killed Frankie Feliciano in July 2019.

Police said Feliciano was holding a knife to another man’s throat when Landreville shot him.

Activists like Ben Frazier, who Williams and Curry praised for working with them to keep Saturday’s initially rally peaceful, said it is a time to talk about issues between the community and police, including the release of body cam video quickly -- not a year or two later when the investigation is complete.

“We will continue to release body-worn camera footage -- as we always do -- at the conclusion of an investigation or when we tender discovery in a pending criminal action," State Attorney Melissa Nelson said in a statement Tuesday. "As a result of current events, we are reviewing our current practices.”


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