Florida prosecutor won’t file charges against protesters

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — More than five dozen peaceful protesters in Florida who were arrested earlier this month for unlawful assembly while demonstrating against police abuse following the death of George Floyd in Minnesota won’t be prosecuted, a state attorney said Monday.

State Attorney Andrew Warren in Tampa said his office won’t be filing charges against 67 protesters who were arrested two weeks ago in downtown Tampa. The prosecutor’s office will also work to expunge the arrest records of the protesters who were taken into custody, he said.

“In these unlawful assembly cases, there is no value in filing charges,” Warren said at a news conference. “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 warned, though, that his office would prosecute anybody who takes advantage of the protests to cause destruction or commit crimes. He said his office is still reviewing another 133 arrests starting from the night of May 30, including cases of arson and vandalism from that night when a gas station was set ablaze and store windows were smashed.

Under Florida law, an “unlawful assembly” is a gathering of three or more people with a “common unlawful purpose” that must have an “intent to do an unlawful act which threatens the peace.”

“There was no evidence that anyone was intending to commit a crime,” Warren said. “They were just there to protest.”