State attorney releases flood of bodycam videos showing arrests during Jacksonville protests

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The State Attorney’s Office on Tuesday released a flood of body camera videos showing the first two days of protests and unrest this spring in Jacksonville following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody.

Officers arrested 79 protesters on charges that included unlawful assembly and resisting police without violence over the two day period of demonstrations in late May throughout downtown Jacksonville.

Since then, state prosecutors have cleared all but two protesters of charges levied against them during the demonstrations after reviewing the more than 400 videos that they released to the public, including drone and aerial footage of the protests.

The videos show various angles from dozens of officers working during the protests on Saturday, May 30, and Sunday, May 31.

By late Tuesday evening, News4Jax reporters reviewing the videos still had not finished watching the nearly 60 hours of footage -- which shows the first glimpses of police body camera video from the protest on May 30.

In one video from May 30, officers can be heard asking protesters in a downtown parking lot to disperse or go to jail before tackling and arresting a young woman who was filming and appearing to walk away.

“What am I being arrested for? Sir, what am I being arrested for?” the woman asks. “Sir, why am I being arrested?”

In the video, she does not receive an answer.

Another video shows several people in the parking lot before more police made more arrests.

“I want everyone in that parking lot, you hear me? I want everyone in the parking lot arrested,” an officer can be heard saying over a radio.

Some of the body camera videos from the protests during the last weekend in May were released last month, but the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office declined to discuss the videos due to pending litigation.

News4Jax will continue to go through the videos released Tuesday afternoon and will be looking to see if video showing police force being used on protester Chad Hollett is there.

The public defender’s office, the sheriff and a federal judge have weighed in on the arrests in the past.

Public Defender and former county judge Charlie Cofer, whose office was representing many of the protesters, said in an interview in late June that the order to arrest protesters who were peacefully demonstrating was unlawful.

“When the formal protest, the organized protest, has ended, people still wanted to protest, and a determination was made by someone with the Sheriff' Office that the protest was over, so everybody had to leave,” Cofer said. “And so they start arresting people who didn’t want to leave or who were not leaving fast enough.”

He continued: “Once the people who are leading the protest say, ‘OK. We’re done,’ it doesn’t mean that people can’t still lawfully assemble and protest, and so my concern is about those circumstances that promoted the decision that they were no longer allowed to peacefully protest.”

During a live interview on “The Morning Show," Sheriff Mike Williams pushed back against criticism that arrests made by his officers were unlawful.

“It’s not the fact that we made arrests that were illegal. That’s not the case. But there’s a different threshold for her to have to prosecute those cases than there is for us to make the arrest on the street,” Williams said.

And a federal judge has ruled in favor of four protesters who sued the agency over their arrests during the May 31 demonstration.

The judge ruled JSO had to pay $100,000 to settle the lawsuit. The judge also set stipulations for the Sheriff’s Office in future protests: JSO officers have to provide enough time for protesters to disperse and can’t make an order to disperse unless there’s a “well-grounded threat of imminent violence, a threat to the public or impairment of traffic.”

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