JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The State Attorney's Office on Thursday dropped charges against two of five protesters arrested in April at an anti-war demonstration in Hemming Park, and reduced the charges for the three others.
In a statement sent to News4Jax, State Attorney Melissa Nelson said, they declined filing charges against Connell Crooms and David Schneider, and has offered misdemeanor plea deals to the other three.
On April 7, as the Jacksonville Progressive Coalition convened at Hemming Park to protest the United States' attack on a Syrian air base, the situation turned violent. When supporters of President Donald Trump showed up, members from both groups started arguing and fighting.
It escalated into an all-out brawl that was captured by cellphone video, showing protesters attacking an agitator, police officers being grabbed and hit and officers punching back, as well.
Five protesters were arrested and charged with various felonies, including battery on law enforcement and inciting a riot. Since then, the protesters arrested had been dubbed the "Jax 5," and there have been demonstrations demanding the charges be dropped.
In a report on the Hemming Park incident obtained by News4Jax, the State Attorney's Office said it declined to prosecute Crooms, 26, after learning he has a hearing deficiency.
"We cannot prove that he actually heard and understood the commands of law enforcement," the report states.
The State Attorney's Office said it also declined to prosecute Schneider, 27, because there was not enough evidence to support the charge of inciting a riot brought against him.
"Everyone wanted to play victim," Snow said. "But you know what? I complied when the police officers told me to do something. I did what they what they told me to do. And if any of the Jax5 had complied that day we wouldn't be here they would've never been charged."
In negotiated deals, Nelson said, the other three protesters -- Thomas, Beckham, Christina Kittle and William Wilder -- were charged with misdemeanors.
"We have undertaken a diligent review of all of the evidence and have analyzed the relevant law. I am confident we have reached appropriate outcomes," Nelson's statement reads in part.
The three will have to perform 25 hours of community service of part of their plea deals, according to the Hemming Park report.
"Definitely overjoyed that her office took the stand with justice. We thought this was a good opportunity for her to turn the page that was an error in Jacksonville and stand with the side of the people. We were very overjoyed with that," said Michael Sampson, a spokesperson for Jax 5.
Counter-protester Gary Snow, who was at the center of the Hemming Park incident, was not arrested, but the State Attorney's Office was looking at his actions and whether he instigated the brawl. In the statement, Nelson said, hr office decline to pursue criminal charges against counter-protester Gary Snow, who
"We have concluded that his speech and actions were protected by the First Amendment," Nelson said the comment.
Snow told News4Jax he was not surprised with that decision.
"Everyone wanted to play victim. But you know what, I complied with what the police officers if they told me to do something. I did what they old me to do," Snow said. "And if any of the Jax 5 had complied that day, we wouldn't be here. They would've never been charged."
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Arraignment on the three charged with misdemeanors took place Friday morning. Their supporters said they will still call for a review board of citizens to hold the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office accountable for situations like the one at Hemming Park, which was brought up at Sheriff Mike Williams' community meeting Thursday night on body cameras.
In talking to the sheriff about those boards, he has indicated many times that is not likely to happen.
"We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to ensure public safety while respecting the liberties that allow us to demonstrate our beliefs in public spaces," Nelson said in the statement.
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