Tampa activists dispute police account of latest protester hit by vehicle

Prev
Next

On June 27, Stuart Flores, an activist marching in a Black Lives Matter demonstration, was hit by a vehicle in South Tampa.

Protesters have been vocal since the incident because Flores was arrested by Tampa police while the driver was allowed to go free. According to an arrest report, Flores, 35, was charged with criminal mischief, unlawful assembly, obstructing a highway and resisting a law enforcement officer without violence. The Tampa Bay Times points out that in the report, the male driver involved in the incident is referred to as the victim. The report goes on to describe how protesters “hit” and kicked the driver’s Volkswagen before blocking it’s path. The report also says protesters caused about $2,000 in damage.

But after a Tuesday press conference outside of Tampa Police headquarters (pictured), Sheridan Murphy—a coordinator for Florida Indigenous Rights and Environmental Equality—pointed to a video taken by community radio station WMNF 88.5-FM in disputing the police report.

The report says the driver was heading east on Swann Avenue just west of Albany Avenue. But WMNF’s video shows the incident—which happened as protesters were observing a moment of silence—starting on Albany Avenue and then moving to Swann Avenue.

Protesters on site (like Yvonne Gougelet, who sent CL an email with first person accounts) have pointed out that there were no cars behind the driver who could have easily turned around, or left through the parking lot of the nearby Winn Dixie. Still, protesters say they observed one protester step in front of the car in an attempt to stop the vehicle from moving towards protesters in wheelchairs. Flores was standing on Albany Avenue when the driver moved towards him; Flores ended up on the hood of the Volkswagen

The incident followed a June 20 incident where a different activist, Jae Passmore, was hit by a vehicle which caused a leg and pelvis injury.

“[Flores] never ‘jumped’ on the vehicle,” Sheridan wrote in his dispute of the Tampa Police report. “[Flores] was kneeling in prayer when confronted with the vehicle. He stood up when it arrived to protect namely Jae Passmore who had been run over the prior week. Stuart can be seen standing in front of the car and calmly trying to de escalate with the driver.”

Sheridan also claims that damage to the vehicle was caused by a  different person the driver struck prior to encountering Stuart, after being struck the young man punched the driver’s windshield.

“Once Stuart was on the hood he implored the driver to stop so he could get off,” Sheridan said. He then saw the driver strike at least two other people before reaching Swann Avenue before he “wildly accelerated and began driving erratically trying to eject Stuart and potentially run Stuart over or at least eject Stuart from the hood.”

The incident ended about half a mile away outside Irish 31 Pub House & Eatery where Flores was arrested. In a news release sent on Saturday, police said they were reviewing video clips of the incident. Protestors worry that the police not taking the driver into custody sets a precedent for other drivers to strike protesters.

“There will be a fatal incident,” Sheridan said, adding that the June 27 incident very well could have been one “had Stuart slipped or fallen off the vehicle given the rapid speed and erratic driving that was done on Swan. This needs to have attention drawn to it to prevent a demonstrator, an angry driver or an innocent driving bystander from being hurt.”

The protesters’ dispute comes less than a week after Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan went on “Fox & Friends” to say officers were “ambushed” during an unrelated incident that had nothing to do with the recent Black Lives Matter movement. When asked if he thought the June 20 event that nine officers responded to was an organized event, Dugan flat out said he didn’t know.

“You know, that’s what’s difficult to tell,” admits Dugan. “That’s where we’re running into problems is what’s organized, what’s a protest, what’s a block party. But it was clearly a setup, there was no shooting, there was no evidence of a shooting and there was no one down in the street.”

Dugan—who's served as a detective—never explained why he thought this scenario is a setup, why he insisted on tying this particular event to the recent organized Black Lives Matter protests or why officers didn’t know what they were getting into.

What Dugan failed to mention in the “Fox & Friends” interview is that residents say this “ambush” is actually a weekly block party that has occurred at the same Tampa intersection. Residents of V.M. Ybor also said they've already filed complaints about it for months. When asked about it, a spokesperson for TPD confirmed that TPD went to the location twice on January 10 for "loud music complaints.”

Support local journalism in these crazy days. Our small but mighty team is working tirelessly to bring you up to the minute news on how Coronavirus is affecting Tampa and surrounding areas. Please consider making a one time or monthly donation to help support our staff. Every little bit helps.

Follow @cl_tampabay on Twitter to get the most up-to-date news + views. Subscribe to our newsletter, too.

06/30/2020 | Photos by Chandler Culotta