Leon County state attorney Jack Campbell won’t pursue charges against Florida Democratic Party Chair Nikki Fried, Democratic state Sen. Lauren Book and 11 other abortion rights protesters arrested in April.
The two were arrested near the Capitol with other protesters, all outraged over the Legislature’s passage of an abortion ban after six weeks of pregnancy, before many women know they’re pregnant. Fried and Book joined Occupy Tallahassee to protest the bill (SB 300) in front of City Hall adjacent to the Capitol after the bill passed the Senate on April 3. Gov. Ron DeSantis later signed the bill on April 13.
Protesters were told to leave City Hall by sundown and, when they refused, they were arrested. They were booked and put in jail but released after a few hours.
In a court filing, Campbell states there was probable cause for arrest for trespassing after a warning, but since Fried, Book and the other protesters wanted to get arrested, pursuing charges wouldn’t be useful.
“The purpose of the criminal justice system is to promote an orderly and safe society through imposing consequences for those who break our laws,” Campbell wrote. “Here, the defendants have elected to use the criminal justice system to amplify their political agenda. Put plainly, they wanted to be arrested and gained media attention by being arrested. The state has no interest in encouraging more unlawful behavior through extending their notoriety as they move through the court system. Due to their lack of criminal history and cooperation with officers, it is unlikely that the court would impose any meaningful sanction.”
Fried said she will “keep fighting until every woman in Florida has the freedom to make her own choices about abortion.”
“I would have gladly gone to trial over this, because Floridians are being denied the fundamental right to control their own bodies,” Fried said. “If that’s not worth being arrested for, I don’t know what is.”
Book said, “The right to protest is a founding principle of our democracy, and I take exception to the assertion that I somehow ‘elected to use the criminal justice system to amplify (a) political agenda.’ We must all feel safe using our voices and exercising our fundamental rights as Americans to speak up and speak out. While it was certainly not my plan to get arrested on the evening of April 3, I was nonetheless proud to join this group of women sitting peacefully, singing, and exercising our First Amendment rights to protest Florida’s dangerous abortion ban, which passed through the Senate earlier that day. Women’s voices must be heard, and our reproductive and First Amendment rights must be respected. I will never be shy about using my voice or standing up for the rights of all Floridians.”
The new law is not yet in effect. The bill tied enforcement of the six-week ban to the Florida Supreme Court’s ruling on a challenge to the 15-week ban the Legislature passed last year. The court is expected to rule on that case sometime this summer. If, as expected, the court upholds that law, that would trigger the six-week ban.
“Lawful protest is fully permissible in Tallahassee and this incident has demonstrated how it can be accomplished,” Campbell added. “Those who chose to wantonly violate the rules we all share should expect to go to jail. Should this consequence prove insufficient, or if future protesters being arrested resist or otherwise assail law enforcement, greater penalties will be sought.”