Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren will not prosecute 67 protesters arrested June 2.
The 67 individuals were arrested for unlawful assembly during demonstrations calling for police reform inn the face of the George Floyd killing in Minneapolis.
Warren’s office said Monday during a news conference they would not be filing charges.
“I’ve said many times that criminal justice reform involves looking at each case as a problem to solve, not just a person to be punished,” State Attorney Warren said. “In these unlawful assembly cases, there is no value in filing charges,” Warren said. “Prosecuting people for exercising their First Amendment rights creates problems rather than solving them. It can weaken the bonds between law enforcement and the community, while undermining faith in our system.”
Warren said each of the 67 individuals reviewed were peacefully protesting. His office found no evidence of violence and no attacks on police officers associated with the cleared protesters.
Warren’s office is in the process of reviewing approximately 200 arrests stemming from protests beginning on May 30, including the year 67 now cleared.
In addition to declining to file charges, Warren’s office is also taking steps to expunge the arrests from each person’s record.
Florida law defines an unlawful assembly as a gathering of three or more people with a “common unlawful purpose” and “intent to do an unlawful act, which threatens the peace.” Individuals found guilty of an unlawful assembly must also do so in a way that gives “rational, firm, and courageous persons in the neighborhood of the assembly a well-grounded fear of a breach of the peace.”
Warren found no evidence of the 67 individuals meeting that criteria.
While some protests in the Tampa area turned chaotic, including the first night in which some vandalized and looted businesses and set fire to some buildings, most demonstrations have been peaceful.
“I want to make one thing clear: while we have no intention of prosecuting anyone who is peacefully protesting, we will not tolerate people looking to exploit this moment,” Warren said. “There is no place for violence or destruction that put the safety of our citizens—including our law enforcement officers—at risk,” Warren said.
Warren, a Democrat, is facing reelection against a “law and order” Republican. Mike Perotti blasted Warren’s decision arguing it showed a lack of leadership.
“The State Attorney should know better than most, it is in fact possible to be for ‘law and order’ while still protecting and securing our essential First Amendment rights. In fact, that’s what law and order means – protecting everyone. If there was little to no justifiable basis to arrest these protestors as Mr. Warren asserts then his failure comes, not in his decision to not prosecute, but in his lack of coordinated support, communication, and guidance with local law enforcement,” Perotti said.
“By Mr. Warren’s logic, those 67 arrests were unnecessary and if the role of the State Attorney is to protect the innocent, while also supporting and guiding law enforcement in their lawful and necessary mission to keeping peace and order – Mr. Warren failed in both regards. Our county desperately needs leadership. Our citizens deserve a State Attorney who is engaged and consistent. Someone they can count on in calm and in crisis. Andrew Warren appears more concerned about pleasing out-of-state donors than engaging in the real work of being a prosecutor and problem-solver,” he continued.