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Jacksonville pastor, others arrested at protest sue sheriff, officers

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

Pastor Delaine Smith was arrested and accused of unlawful assembly during a peaceful protest in downtown Jacksonville on Sunday.
Pastor Delaine Smith was arrested and accused of unlawful assembly during a peaceful protest in downtown Jacksonville on Sunday. (Screenshots via Facebook)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A Jacksonville pastor who was arrested last month while trying to mediate between police and demonstrators has filed a federal lawsuit — along with several arrested protesters — against Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams and four police officers.

The State Attorney’s Office declined to prosecute Delaine Smith, 56, and dozens of others arrested May 31 during 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.

Briauna Bosworth, Sharrona Brightman and Elizabeth Mulroney, who have joined Smith in the lawsuit, were among the 48 protesters taken into custody who later had their charges dropped by the State Attorney’s Office.

The 23-page lawsuit filed Friday in federal court details what was happening during the peaceful protest May 31 in front of the Duval County Courthouse and how the protesters were treated by officers.

READ: Full lawsuit embedded at bottom of this article

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, May 31, 2020

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 the lawsuit, after the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office made an announcement telling the protesters to “disperse the area,” Smith had checked with an officer to see if they could continue to protest in smaller groups. They were told to leave the courthouse area, and the lawsuit alleges that is what they were doing when they were “indiscriminately” arrested.

According to the lawsuit, JSO had blocked off three streets surrounding the courthouse and when Mulroney asked an officer how to get back to her car as she was leaving the protest, the officer ordered two other officers to arrest her. Mulroney said the officers wrenched her shoulder when they pulled her arms behind her back and she had to be taken to the hospital before she went to the jail.

The lawsuit points to several of the arrest reports for the protesters which indicated that the protesters “were walking away” when they were arrested and show that the protesters were arrested in different areas from where the protest had happened in front of the south-facing entrance of the courthouse. “In other words, even from the arresting officers’ accounts, the protesters were dispersed at the time of their arrests,” the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit also alleges that Bosworth and Brightman were among a group of protesters on a sidewalk who were hit with a chemical spray by JSO after other protesters tried to block JSO trucks on a ramp leading to the Main Street Bridge. The lawsuit said the pair then walked back to the courthouse and were again told to leave so they walked along the sidewalks to Bay and Market streets, where they were arrested by two JSO officers.

“At no time were either Plaintiffs Brightman or Bosworth engaging in any acts of violence of obstructing the roadways for travel,” the lawsuit says.

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

The lawsuit accuses the named JSO officers of false arrest and of retaliation in violation of the protesters’ First Amendment right to free speech.

The lawsuit also accuses Williams of violating the protesters’ right to freedom of assembly (First Amendment) and their right against unreasonable seizure (Fourth Amendment) and says that the city is liable because, in his capacity as sheriff, Williams allowed policies or practices that violated the protesters’ rights.

The lawsuit asks for a declaratory judgment against JSO’s policy of arresting protesters and for an order preventing them from arresting or using force against protesters engaged in peaceful protests.

It also seeks monetary awards of compensatory damages, punitive damages, attorney’s fees and “any other relief this court deems just and proper.”

“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,” Smith said after she was released from jail. “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 Author:

A Jacksonville native and proud University of North Florida alum, Francine Frazier has been with News4Jax since 2014 after spending nine years at The Florida Times-Union.