Local activist suffered concussion and hip injury from Tampa Police, says lawyer

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On Friday, at least 30 protesters held a press conference at Lykes Gaslight Park in downtown Tampa in support of protesters, who activists say have been marginalized by Tampa Mayor Jane Castor’s negligence and harmed at the hands of both the Tampa Police Department and the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.

The event came after prominent Tampa activist Jae Passmore (pictured above in red "Make Racists Afraid Again" cap) was charged with battery following a Wednesday incident that resulted in TPD arresting her on Kennedy Boulevard.

On Wednesday, protesters said Passmore was aggressively arrested by TPD. Numerous social media posts show Passmore laying on the ground surrounded by Tampa Police officers. Protesters argue that things turned violent when plain-clothed police officers jumped out of unmarked cars and pushed Passmore. The officers then stopped a medic from assisting her, and then didn't provide Passmore with medical help for at least 11 minutes, protesters say. One posts says she was convulsing. At the 4:50-mark, the TPD video shows Passmore clearly saying “I can’t breathe.”

According to an arrest report that Passmore’s attorney, Gretchen Cothron shared with Creative Loafing Tampa Bay, Passmore “intentionally walked up to the victim and intentionally struck the victim against his will on the back of his head with an open palm.”

However, video released by TPD doesn’t appear to show Passmore touching his head.

After the press conference, Cothron told CL that there is a major difference in how someone responds to a situation where someone is feeling impeded. 

“The difference is, a battery is defined as an intentional touching against someone's will. So if you're in a vehicle, and you purposely drive into a group of protesters, that's intentional. But the video that TPD released is saying that Jae pushing the guy on the shoulder was a battery,” Cothron said. “If I'm in the grocery store, and someone steps in front of me, and I put my arm on their shoulder, ‘Hey, you know, I'm about to run into you.’ That's not battery, I'm not intentionally trying to harm them. I'm just saying, hey, you're in my way.’”

At the conference, Cothron also detailed Passmore's injuries, saying the activist suffered a concussion, hip injury and is experiencing blurry eyesight and dizziness.

Passmore's arrest on Wednesday marked the second time this summer she was hospitalized while protesting in defense of Black lives. On June 21, Passmore was injured after a driver in a pickup truck drove through demonstrators in Hyde Park Village; Passmore suffered a concussion after that incident as well a sprained ankle. 

Friday’s press conference also featured revived calls for Tampa Mayor Jane Castor to fire Chief of Police Brian Dugan. In June, City of Tampa spokesperson Ashley Bauman told CL in a text message that, "Dugan is the chief at TPD and there have been no discussions about a change at the top."

On the Wednesday of Passmore's arrest this reporter saw the clash between the protest groups. On the Kennedy Boulevard side of Lykes Gaslight Park, Tampa Food Not Bombs was gathered to feed the local homeless population and Passmore came downtown in support.

“Wednesday, I came out here not to protest, but because earlier Saturday, white supremacists came and attacked an organization who has been dedicated and committed to feeding the houseless community for years in Tampa. We came out here to support them,” Passmore said.

Back the Blue [BTB] protesters had gathered at TPD headquarters by the now notorious and widely mocked Back the Blue or “Bock the Blup” mural. Situated between the two sides, yet another group had gathered to protest in support of Black Lives Matter [BLM]. Although the rally that had emerged wasn’t concretely connected to any specific organizations, Passmore postulated they were with an activist group based out of University of South Florida. 

One activist, Black Rose was there with Passmore for the Food Not Bombs action. Rose told CL they heard chants coming from the BLM march. “When Black Lives are under attack, what do we do? Stand up fight back!” BTB mural advocates had come to counterprotest. So Rose joined Passmore to walk across the street and stand in solidarity with the rally.

Taunts and verbal jabs were exchanged between this group and the BTB crowd. Cries of “Back the Blue” and, “USA, USA,” were countered with “All Jobs Matter,” and, “No Trump, No KKK, No Racist USA.” At around 8 p.m. the BTB crowd slowly started to walk toward the other groups near the corner of Franklin Street and Kennedy Boulevard. For a few minutes there was a 6-foot space between the two groups as they attempted to respect social distancing. That moment was cut short when emotions got heated and the BLM protesters became invigorated that they had won the day. 

They audibly drowned out the BTB crowd; dancing, jumping, and rejoicing as their counterparts slowly retreated back toward their tarnished albeit unpermitted mural. A man blew an orange whistle to signal the withdrawal from Franklin Street. He was wearing a biker helmet fashioned in the WWII era military style, and many of his group seemed to be donning leather vests and cutoff denim. 

Some BTB individuals stood their ground and would not move, despite the slowly advancing line of BLM protesters, which was pointing and waving to those who were backing away, singing “Na na na na, hey hey hey, goodbye.” A BTB protester used an airhorn in the face of a BLM protester, and the remaining BTB protesters were continuing to shout and point as the crowd pushed forward. Passmore found herself embroiled in the middle. 

As the crowd pressed from behind her, she found herself surrounded by protesters on all sides from both groups. Using her left hand to livestream the action, she was pushed forward by her comrades behind her. One BTB protester stepped sideways in front of her path, and Passmore pushed his right shoulder to clear her path. Moments later half a dozen officers used bicycles facing in opposite directions to break up the crowd. After things quelled a bit, both groups shouted insults across the BTB mural from opposite sides of the street.

Meanwhile, Passmore left the scene and headed east on W. Kennedy Boulevard caddy-corner to Tampa City Hall. Tampa Police footage shows officers arrive in an unmarked vehicle and point out Passmore by the color of her peach shirt. One officer pushed her, causing her to trip over the foot of a bystander walking behind her. At 8:17 p.m. the officer grabbed Passmore’s left arm, cuffing her, and saying, “I didn’t push you, put your hands behind your back.” She was turned onto her stomach and the arresting officer pressed his knee into Passmore’s left shoulder blade.

Passmore told CL she pleaded with the officers after she hit the ground.

“I just remember yelling, telling him, ‘I have a bad hip. I have a hip injury.’ I was trying to let them know that you don't have to be rough with me. And then I felt pressure on my back. Like being squished between a human and the ground.” Passmore said. “And I felt like I couldn't breathe. And I didn't know if I was gonna die on that sidewalk,” Passmore said.

At the conference, Cothron also detailed Passmore's injuries, saying the activist suffered a concussion, exacerbation of her hip injury and pulled groin, and experienced blurry eyesight and dizziness. Passmore was released from St. Joseph’s Hospital at 12:15 a.m. on Thursday, August 13, and released on recognizance with a notice to appear in court for misdemeanor battery and resisting an officer without violence. Passmore went back to Memorial hospital Thursday to get further treated for her injuries. 

As previously mentione, on June 21, Passmore was injured after a driver in a pickup truck drove through demonstrators in Hyde Park Village; Passmore suffered a concussion after that incident as well a sprained ankle. The driver was let go. 

Passmore said TPD won’t release the driver’s name to her legal team.

“When it comes to those fighting for truth and justice, it's immediate arrest. It's immediate putting out stuff with social media to let the community know that, ‘One protester was arrested, the streets are safer now.’ We got white supremacists driving around in trucks and TPD has been investigating for like two months now,” Passmore said. “They're the most investigating-never-doing-nothing Police Department I've ever heard of and that's why they need to be defunded.”

Passmore’s message has been the same from the start: Dump Dugan. 

Since the George Floyd Solidarity protests have spread nationwide, the actions of police chiefs in every locality have been under increased scrutiny, and Castor told WMNF that all officers are accountable for that. But especially here in Tampa where the mayor has had a long history of controversy while serving as Chief of Police. 

Local activists with Restorative Justice Coalition hearken back to the death of Arthur Green Jr., an activist who died in police custody in a similar manner to George Floyd back in 2014. Even Castor’s infamous “Biking While Black” controversy remains fresh in the minds of those who remember the mayor’s history of ticketing Black bicyclists. 

In spite of this history, Passmore indicates that in her mind Castor has the potential for redemption: by firing Dugan, who has presided over a 24% increase in use of force, and a 223% increase in use of chemical agents.

Castor made an attempt to show support for Black lives when she oversaw the creation of the Black Lives Matter mural, commissioned by the mayor’s Art on The Block program. But for many the mural felt tone deaf as Police Chief Brian Dugan’s actions have remained problematic. He has made appearances on Fox News alleging a block party was an ambush, and publicly denied the use of rubber bullets and tear gas on protesters despite videos and victim accounts that prove otherwise. 

Passmore came to the mural in a wheelchair with her foot still in pain from the collision. She asked Castor if she would fire Police Chief Dugan. The mayor doubled down, saying not only would she not fire Dugan, but that nothing she said would satisfy Passmore. The issue for Passmore is rooted in the use of force against protesters on May 31 and June 1, and Chief Dugan’s denial of those actions.
“Mayor Jane Castor is an embarrassment to the city of Tampa. I think that she's getting the national spotlight of being this courageous mayor who understands what transparent policing is, but she can't even do it in her own city,”Passmore told CL

She was referring to a recent Twitter post Castor shared, which said,

Today, I joined fellow Mayors and Police Chiefs to unveil the @usmayors Report on Policing and Racial Injustice. Transparency is paramount between the community and our police departments.” 

Passmore added, “I went to have that conversation with Mayor Jane Castor at the Black Lives Matter mural. I said,

‘You more than any mayor in this country are equipped to understand how to control a police department being that you are a former police chief. So the arrogance in which this police department is operating under shows either you don't know, or you don't care.’”

Passmore added that to her, Castor is failing at her job. For Passmore, one step to rectify that would be Castor coming out and firing police Chief Dugan.

“I don't understand how she can be on CNN and posting pictures on Instagram and Facebook about her being a part of a national coalition of mayors when her own city is in shambles,” Passmore said.”

Passmore made a petition to fire Dugan, and brought her demands to Tampa City Council on June 25. She walked into the meeting on crutches, where she was shoved by unmasked Tampa Police officers who were preventing activists from bringing signs into the meeting. 

Two days later, on June 27, Passmore led a march in Hyde Park to gather near the location she had been struck. After the march, Passmore held a moment of silence for violence against Black women from her wheelchair. Moments later a driver in a Volkswagen drove his car into another protester, indigenous activist Stuart Flores. The driver was also let go, but Flores was arrested and wrongfully accused of punching the windshield. ACLU volunteer Cothron is also representing Flores now. The failure of TPD to either protect protesters from these injuries or at least follow up with timely investigations is like salt in the wounds for a movement that feels like BIPOC lives still don’t matter to TPD.

Since the “Black Lives Matter” mural was painted, it was hard enough for activists to see the action as anything more than a superficial gesture, especially after TPD doxxed Joneshia Wilkerson last month on their official YouTube page among other complaints

But when BTB activists managed to paint the “Back the Blue” mural without permit or reprimand, activists feel that law enforcement has not applied the law equally. 

Passmore claims that the police accounts of arrests during a July 4 demonstration conflicted with video.

“The police said they tried to arrest one activist and they ran away, and that's why all the other arrests happened. Luckily, someone who had been banned from Facebook posted a video weeks later showing that TPD rolling up on bicycles jumped off the bicycles and tackled protesters” Passmore said.

And with about 40 “Back the Blue” mural painters still under investigation, it only highlights the clusters of Black Lives Matter clashes with police, like last week where half a dozen activists were arrested for starting a new mural at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park. Passmore said the enforcement of that mural was far more swift. 

“Now on Saturday, seven people tried to paint that mural," Passmore said. "There was no conversation to be had. They ran and they dragged my brother across the lawn. Him being a marginalized Black trans man, I wanted to keep eyes on. And what the police department do an officer pushed me; shoved me. And the video’s on my Facebook in case anybody wants to see it."

And she said tensions around the murals escalated at nightfall. 

She claims Jeff Hawks of Community Patriots, a Facebook group that is partially responsible for the BTB mural, was the culprit.

“A group of activists came out to this ‘Bock the Blub’ mural. And as we stood there, its supporters and organizers who actually painted it came out. A man in a red hat and a red shirt attacked two people,” Passmore said. “A woman who weighed no more than 100 pounds, he pushed; he kept trying to fight. He grabbed the phone out of Black Rose's hand and threw it in the street.”

Passmore said that’s when TPD finally showed up.

“When we tried to tell them that we were assaulted, TPD said ‘I need to get a statement' As I went to give a statement. I asked the police officer," Passmore said. "'If I give you the statement, are you going to arrest this man who just attacked these people?' He responded with 'I don't know.' I said 'Just four hours ago you arrested seven people in Curtis Hixon Park, but now you need a statement for arrest for a clear assault?'”

Passmore said one of the Back the Blue mural painters defended the mural in front of officers without reprimand, which angered Passmore.

“You arrested people for criminal mischief, and you have the names and pictures of everybody who put that down. You arrested the people who just spray painted on it. You arrested the people who threw whatever black substance on it,” said Passmore.

Yet she wonders if and when TPD will decide to arrest the Back The Blue mural artists.

“One could only logically assume that if you support the police, regardless of any actions that they do, you are safe from harm's way. But if you speak out and call to attention, the dishonesty and lack of transparency that this department is operating within, you will be attacked and bullied, harassed and beaten,” Passmore said.

Now fast forward to Wednesday.

Passmore can’t remember everything that has happened that night, 

“But what I can say is, I wasn't treated like a human. I was treated like a threat. Nevermind the fact Back the Blue people all had knives on their waist. They had batons, they had chemical spray, they had air horns that they were spraying and pressing in the ear of protesters," Passmore said. "The Back to Blue people started up that mural and aggressively came towards this side because they wanted violence.”

But Passmore insists self defense is not violence. 

“I have a right to protect my humanity. I have a right to protect those who are fighting with me for truth and justice. That is not violence," Passmore said. "When they actively approach, brushing up against protesters, we took a defensive stance and linked arms. Where was TPD? At Cyrus Greene, TPD came out in full force, and at Curtis Hixon TPD came out in full force. But when Back the Blue people armed with dangerous weapons intending to do harm to protesters, where were they?”

She adds this all has ignited the city like never before. 

“To quote our dear, wise, Police Chief Dugan, 'It's a shame that it took George Floyd being murdered for people to care' But what he doesn't realize now, the people in the City of Tampa, they're not fighting for me. We're fighting for each other. And we will be out in the streets. We will let them know that we will not stop. We demand Police Chief Dugan is fired," Passmore said.

She’s willing to achieve that end by any means necessary.

“That is more than just protesting. At this press conference, I want to let every City Council member know specifically the three citywide council members: We will recall your job if you do not stand with defunding the police,” Passmore said. 

And she says electoral lawyers told them what they would need to do. 

“So we will be in the streets," Passmore said. "We will be in the voting booth. We'll be in the neighborhoods collecting petitions, but this city will change by choice or by force.”

So the #DumpDugan campaign has now expanded to include City Council members. Passmore said she’s ready to act.

“You have 30 days to acquire enough petitions to do such, and then that sort of time, they have at least 10 days to make a written response. And then you have another period of time where you have to gather more petitions, and then it goes to a ballot. So if they cannot serve us correctly and understand that TPD doesn't need 13 million more dollars, and that they actually need to be defunded, and reallocate it to sources in the community, then they don't need to sit on that dais," Passmore said.

When Passmore indicated she would be willing to achieve this by any means or by force, she told CL this doesn’t mean violence per se. 

“‘By any means,’ is a correct metric to determine how to fight for ourselves or how to fight for others. I don't think force indicates violence, I think force means that we are committed in this fight, and we are dedicated in this fight," Passmore explained. "It is not a leisurely thing that we are doing. We are purposeful, full, and intentional in our methods of removing those who obstruct the will of the people to have a better life here in Tampa.”

The press conference also marks the second time Passmore has returned to protest in the vicinity of a location where she was injured while protesting, which she says has reignited some trauma.

“I mean, it's very, very, very triggering, being so close to where this happened. But we cannot lead with fear if we hope to ever attain justice. If we ever hope to dismantle systems of oppression, we cannot let our fear guide us. So, courage isn't the absence of fear, but how we navigate fear. So I'm courageous enough in coming back to this place," Passmore said.

She hopes her courage inspires other people to join her and others in this fight. 

Cothron, Passmore’s attorney, has been working with the NAACP, Tampa Dream Defenders and the ACLU, and she maintains that the fight should be focused on putting 19% of TPD budget to community programs.

“...Like what Hillsborough County Sheriff's office does with the Crisis Center of Tampa- sending out, social workers with an officer who's trained in mental health as opposed to sending out police. I also do believe defunding is necessary," Cothron said. "It's unfathomable to me that here in the city of Tampa with all of our community problems, with the President coming to town and making fun of our our bad streets and our potholes that we're spending -60% is what is projected- right now we're spending about 40% of the entire city budget, at just Tampa Police Department. And if the mayor gets a $13 million increase, we're looking at closer to 60% of the entire city budget for police.”

What police enforcement is occurring, Cothron noted, doesn’t benefit her neighborhood. 

“I don't live in East Tampa and I don't live in Seminole Heights or Tampa Heights. So where I live, I don't see the police. So I'm wondering, Well, what am I paying for? I'm paying for that to harass people in other neighborhoods and stop people. The only time I see police in my neighborhood is when they're doing a DUI checkpoint, and everybody knows just don't go out that night," Cothron said. "So I'm angry that I've definitely that much of my tax dollars are being spent on programs that are not to protect and serve my community; they are to oppress other communities within city of Tampa”

An activist named Craig from Tampa Dream Defenders said the 19% reduction they’re demanding be diverted TPD’s budget is a nod to Juneteenth, also known as Emancipation Day. 

He suggested that funding could go to new iterations of proven community programs. He cites Operation Peacemaker, which uses returning citizens or formerly incarcerated people to mentor youth involved in gun violence. “And that program costs only $2 million a year and has shown a 60% reduction in gun violence.” 

Frequently critics of defunding the police wonder how basic laws could be enforced without officers getting enough funding. Craig cites a decision in the city of Berkeley, California to replace police with unarmed civilians during traffic stops. 

He also cites the CAHOOTS program in Eugene, Oregon as a successful diversion of police funding and responsibility that uses medical and mental health professionals to respond to community needs instead of law enforcement. 

“They actually take 20% of their local police agencies’ 911 calls, and they effectively respond to them Out of 22,000 calls in 2019 they've only had to require police backup for a violent incident 150 times, so less than 1% of the time. So there's plenty of successful programs, and he has to be a city that’s focused and invested in the community instead of investing in violence.”

Tampa City Council will consider the mayor’s proposed budget in the coming weeks, but ultimately it is up to Castor how to manage Police Chief Dugan. City of Tampa spokesperson Ashley Bauman told CL in a text message that, "Dugan is the chief at TPD and there have been no discussions about a change at the top."Tampa City Council meetings are now virtual, and information on how to comment remotely or prior to the meeting is available on tampagov.net. —Josh Holton

08/14/2020 | Photos by Chandler Culotta, Dave Decker and Bryan Edward