For the second time in as many months, prosecutors have dismissed dozens of charges filed against protesters who were arrested during a weekend of civil rights demonstrations in Jacksonville.
Fourth Circuit Court State Attorney Melissa Nelson’s office this week declined to prosecute 15 people who were arrested May 30 during the most confrontational clashes with Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office police in downtown. All were charged with unlawful assembly or resisting an officer without violence.
“There is not a reasonable probability of conviction for the… listed defendants. Therefore, this office declines to file charges on each of the cases listed,” reads a report signed by Assistant State Attorney John Kalinowski.
The report said prosecutors reviewed all arrest reports and body camera footage and found no reason to proceed with the cases.
Dozens of police clad in full riot gear unleashed tear gas and flash bangs on hundreds of protesters who gathered May 30 to protest police brutality in the wake of George Floyd‘s murder May 25. He died after a police officer knelt on his neck during a video-recorded arrest in Minneapolis.
The Jacksonville Community Action Committee demonstrations originally drew about 3,000 protesters May 30. But as the initial protests ended around 7 p.m., Jacksonville police engaged in several violent clashes with remaining demonstrators and there were dozens of arrests.
Organizer Monique Sampson said Nelson’s office had little choice but to dismiss the charges for many demonstrators.
“This is a way to show that she’s not going to put up with unlawful arrests,” Sampson said. “That day, the cops came prepared to riot. The cops came prepared to fight. They came prepared in riot gear with guns and terrorizing the community. They started the ‘violence.’”
In June, Nelson’s office dismissed 48 cases for similar charges against demonstrators who were arrested May 31, though those arrests came during peaceful protests.
While many of the Jacksonville demonstrations were inspired by Floyd’s killing, many protesters raised concerns about local fatal shootings involving Jacksonville police. While Sampson is encouraged Nelson’s office dismissed the charges against protesters, she’s still skeptical about Nelson’s association with local police.
“She still has a lot of work to do. Dismissing the charges against peaceful protesters is something that she should do. So, she shouldn’t get a cookie or a prize for doing her job,” Sampson said.
Nelson declined to prosecute and cleared JSO Officer Josue Garriga who fatally shot 22-year-old Jamee Johnson during a traffic stop in December. Police body camera footage showed Johnson got into a physical confrontation with the officer before he was shot. Nelson cleared the officer this month.
There are other cases that need more scrutiny, Sampson said.
“When it comes to indicting killer cops, she’s not doing her job,” Sampson said. “It seems like she’s trying to throw the community scraps while at the same time trying to appease these cops .”