TAMPA, Fla. — Protesters at the University of South Florida are calling for the resignation of the school’s police chief and president following arrests recently made on the campus.
About a month ago, demonstrators like Vaidehi Persad were protesting against police brutality – but last week, they say they were experiencing it.
“Slammed them on the ground, pulled hair, pushed, scratched,” Persad explained, describing her account of what happened to members of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). “Not only was it violent, but it was also repressing.”
Members of SDS say their March 6 protest to protect diversity initiatives on campus wasn’t too different from their previous protests.
But Persad says when the group gathered in the Patel Center for Global Solutions with their signs and chants, it ended with four of the protesters in handcuffs.
“We didn’t do anything wrong. We did exactly what we’ve done in the past,” she said. “Public institution, a public building…we weren’t violent, we actually were just standing there holding signs.”
10 Tampa Bay asked for the arrest affidavits from USF police. Written in those reports are police statements that say the group refused to leave the building when asked, that protesters resisted arrest and all four people arrested have been charged with battery on a law enforcement officer.
One of those documents says a protester was “pushing her way through officers making a lawful arrest, struck Ofc. Urig in the abdomen area.”
Another says one of the people arrested “began to resist Chief Daniels, actually and intentionally pushing him away against his will.”
The USF Police Department released a statement to 10 Tampa Bay, stating:
On Monday, March 6, at approximately 1:30 p.m. individuals with the group Tampa Bay Students for a Democratic Society entered the Patel Center for Global Solutions building on the University of South Florida’s Tampa campus and began causing a loud disturbance.
University employees who work in the building asked the students to go outside because the protest group’s loud chants were disrupting normal activities. When the protest group refused to leave and continued to chant, officers with the University Police Department then asked them to leave numerous times, but the group ignored the requests. Despite the attempts of officers to peacefully deescalate the situation and escort the protestors out of the building, several of the individuals then became aggressive and initiated physical altercations with police.
One officer was pushed to the ground and suffered minor injuries, while other officers were also shoved by protestors. Protestors hit police with objects, including what officers believe was a video camera and a water bottle, and threw an unidentified liquid at officers.
The university's police department says as a result of the incident, the four protestors were taken into custody and arrested with each facing multiple charges, including:
- Assault or battery of law enforcement officers, firefighters, emergency medical care providers, public transit employees or agents, or other specified officers
- Resisting officer without violence to his or her person
- Educational institutions or school boards; penalty for disruption
One of the protesters also received a charge for trespassing in structure or conveyance.
Joseph Nohava is a part of the Tampa Bay community action committee, a group that’s calling for the charges to be dropped. He says the protesters were attacked.
“We’re going to continue to fight, and we’re not going to let this stop us,” he said.
10 Tampa Bay has reached out to the university’s president and a spokesperson released a statement that said:
USF strongly supports the right to free speech. Just this week on our campuses there have been several protests and demonstrations that occurred peacefully and without incident, as is common at a public university. However, what took place on Monday afternoon at the Patel Center is not something anyone wants to see on our campuses.
Using their training and university protocol, USF staff and police officers asked a protest group numerous times to move outside of the building, as they were disrupting normal business activities. When the group did not comply, police officers issued several additional warnings in an attempt to deescalate the situation. When the group again failed to comply, law enforcement tried to lead them out of the building.
The group actively resisted, with some members putting their hands on police, as officers took action to remove them from the building. I believe it’s appropriate to further look into the matter, and we will review the actions of all involved.
As far as charges, 10 Tampa Bay also reached out to the Office of the State Attorney 13th Judicial Circuit for an update.
A spokesperson sent a statement saying:
When someone is booked by police, they are booking charges, not charges filed by our office. We have up to 170 days to look at evidence in any case to decide if we will file formal charges.
We have not made any charging decision in any of these cases.