Prosecutors drop charge against Jacksonville pastor

Delaine Smith was arrested May 31 while keeping the peace at a courthouse protest

Delaine Smith was arrested May 31 while keeping the peace at a courthouse protest

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A Jacksonville pastor who was arrested last month while trying to mediate between police and demonstrators holding a peaceful protest at the Duval County Courthouse will not face criminal charges.

Friday, the State Attorney’s Office filed an electronic notice saying that after reviewing evidence in the case, it would not prosecute 56-year-old Delaine Smith for misdemeanor unlawful assembly.

“You have a right to protest. You have a right to disagree. On the other hand, I and this city, I’m collectively stating, we’re not going to burn this city. We’re not going to throw anything that’s going to bring harm to anybody else," Smith told News4Jax on Tuesday.

Smith was among dozens of protesters taken into custody May 31 after a protest calling for criminal justice reform following the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man who died in Minneapolis police custody.

Smith was streaming on Facebook Live that day as Jacksonville Sheriff’s officers arrested her and other protesters whom police said resisted orders to clear the area surrounding the courthouse.

During the hour-long live broadcast, Smith could be heard keeping the peace — telling protesters to clean up after themselves, offering them bottled water and asking them to obey traffic laws to avoid arrest.

My city Jacksonville FL will NOT be destroyed. Peace, Love & Justice. I’m downtown Praying at the courthouse

Posted by Delaine Smith on Sunday, 31 May 2020

“There will be justice, and you’re going to have peace. We will not destroy this city,” Smith said in the video, which has been viewed more than 44,000 times. “Go home, baby. You did good.”

As police in riot gear approach the remaining crowd, Smith can be heard telling protesters to go home and volunteering to clean up any litter left behind. Then police detain a protester nearby.

“Ma’am, put your hands behind your back,” an officer tells Smith while restraining her hands as her phone keeps recording. “You’ve had your chance. We can only push so much.”

According to a copy of Smith’s arrest report, police notified the crowd about 1:45 p.m. that they needed to leave “due to concerns of public safety.” The report said she did not comply with that order.

Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams defended the arrests, saying that the crowd was told to clear the area after some protesters grew "confrontational” and “things were being thrown.”

Smith was booked into the Duval County jail about 8:25 p.m. May 31, according to jail records, and she was released shortly before 4 p.m. the next day.

During a June 3 news conference at the courthouse, Smith and her attorney, Dexter Van Davis, said her arrest wasn’t justified. As her Facebook Live video showed, she said, she was keeping the peace.

“My main purpose was to be able to maintain peace,” Smith said. “How I was treated and handled, I don’t believe in my heart that anyone who was trying to maintain peace should have been arrested.”

In a Facebook post the following day, she expressed gratitude to her supporters, including State Rep. Kimberly Daniels and State Attorney Melissa Nelson, for their help clearing her name.

“To God be the Glory,” Smith said. “I got Justice because I have Peace.”

Davis said Smith and the others who were at the protest May 31 need both the charges dropped and their records expunged.

“I think JSO made a big mistake by arresting all these individuals from looking at the video that I’ve seen of Dr. Smith’s video. It was a peaceful protest,” Davis said. “It doesn’t appear to me that she did anything wrong. And the fact that the State Attorney’s Office dropped the charges says, as well, that she did nothing wrong. She was out there, assisting the officers, doing things you would think they will want someone to do, and then she finds herself getting arrested.”

Smith added: “I need my children and my grandchildren when they Google Dr. Delaine Smith, D-e-l-a-i-n-e Smith, I need them to know that I have a good name. When I’m dead and gone, sleeping in my grave, I need them to know that my good name lives on. That’s what I need.”

About the Authors:

Kent Justice co-anchors News4Jax's 5 p.m., 10 and 11 p.m. newscasts weeknights and reports on government and politics. He also hosts "This Week in Jacksonville," Channel 4's hot topics and politics public affairs show each Sunday morning at 9 a.m.