Charges dropped against City Hall arrestees, state says protesters tried to “use” justice system
Florida Democrats Chair Nikki Fried said police had no legal grounds for the arrests
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - State Attorney Jack Campbell dropped all charges Friday against a group of protesters who were arrested at Tallahassee City Hall in April.
The group of 11 abortion-rights demonstrators, including Florida Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book and Florida Democratic Party Chair Nikki Fried, faced trespassing charges after they refused to leave City Hall grounds after sunset.
In a so-called “no information” document signed by Campbell, the state attorney said the group wanted to be arrested.
The state attorney said the protesters gained media attention from their arrests, and the government would not encourage “unlawful behavior” by “extending their notoriety.”
“The State has no interest in encouraging more unlawful behavior through extending their notoriety as they move through the court system,” the message said.
He also pointed out that it was unlikely the arrestees would face “any meaningful sanctions” because of their lack of criminal history and cooperation.
Fried released a statement following the news saying the group never should have been arrested.
A lawyer representing nine of those arrested said in a written statement they are pleased the charges “against all of these citizens who were exercising their 1st amendment right to peacefully protest” were dismissed. The lawyer, Mutaqee Akbar, also criticized some of Campbell’s comments in the document, saying the focus should remain on abortion rights.
“It’s unfortunate that our state attorney focused his dismissal on the assumed motives of those arrested instead of the unconstitutionality of the arrest itself,” Akbar wrote. “Regardless, the focus should remain on why those 11 people were there in the first place, which was to speak out against our government infringing on the rights of women to choose what happens to their bodies.”
Campbell outlined events from April 3 leading up to the arrests. He said all protesters left the City Hall area by 7:45 p.m. Then, two minutes later, a group of 12 protesters returned, Campbell wrote.
“At 7:47, a group of 12 protesters walked past barricades and sat down and began singing,” the document said.
The document said that after about a half hour, Tallahassee Police officers told group members they would be arrested if they didn’t leave. One of them left, Campbell said.
“At 8:16, Tallahassee Police approached the group and again warned that if they did not leave, they would be arrested. This was emphasized when one protester stood and walked away without arrest,” he wrote.
The state attorney said protests are allowed in Tallahassee, but the state will penalize future protesters who break the law.
“Those who choose to wantonly violate the rules we all share should expect to go to jail,” he wrote. “Should this consequence prove insufficient, or if future protesters being arrested resist or otherwise assail law enforcement, greater penalties will be sought.
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