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Cell phone videos show Tampa police officers using pepper spray during Thursday's protests

Posted at 10:23 PM, Jun 04, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-05 08:46:28-04

TAMPA, Fla. -- Cell phone videos showing police using pepper spray at protesters are making rounds on social media.

The graphic video, shared by viewer Jamie Bullock ("@JamieBullockk" on Twitter), shows Tampa police officer using cans of pepper spray at protesters while trying to place a person in custody. The incident happened near the intersection of East Scott Street and North Jefferson Street in Tampa on Thursday evening.

Protesters on scene could be heard pleading the police to "get off" a female suspect being apprehended. According to an email from the Tampa Police Department, the female suspect tried to swing an umbrella at one of the officers.

As officers tried to place her in custody, a crowd of protesters tried to approach the officers "in an aggressive manner," prompting the officers to use the spray, TPD told ABC Action News in the email.

At one point in the video, the spray appeared to hit both the cell phone camera and the person taking the video.

A cell phone video shared Twitter by a different user shows a different angle of the same incident. The second video shows an officer pulling the female suspect down to the ground.

Another cell phone video shared to ABC Action News by a different viewer shows a police officer yelling at the crowd to "disperse" before spraying at the person taking the cell phone video.

"I’m actually one of the guys that got pepper sprayed and like my face still burns. It’s been an hour and half later," said J'Khari Wilson.

"We had a route we had a destination it was peaceful from the beginning it was not necessary it was not necessary at all," said another protester.

TPD also explained in its email response that this particular group of protesters who approached the officer "in an aggressive manner" tried to enter the interstate over the past several days.

Police lined up and blocked the interstate entrance. An announcement said the gathering was declared an unlawful assembly and said protesters needed to leave. Protesters then continued on their march, turning towards downtown.

The incident comes just hours after seven black elected leaders in Hillsborough County released a joint statement calling out Tampa Mayor Jane Castor and Tampa police chief Brian Dugan after reports of "unprovoked use of force" from officers over the last several days.

The joint statement pointed out three incidents that caught the elected leaders' attention:

  • May 30 - TPD reportedly used rubber bullets and tear gas to get a "peaceful gathering of protesters" at Cyrus Greene Park to disperse
  • June 1 - TPD reportedly used force against an unarmed black man while on the grounds of Tampa General Hospital (not related to protests)
  • June 2- TPD reportedly used "dehumanizing tactics" to disperse crowds of peaceful protesters in downtown Tampa.

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"Let us be clear: we strongly condemn the use of force or violence by law enforcement against any protester who peacefully exercises their right to the freedom of assembly and expression," the joint statement said in part. "We also condemn the use of force or violence by law enforcement against unarmed individuals whose only crime appears to be living while black."

Mayor Castor released the following statement after reports of TPD possibly using too much force:

Nationwide and across the Tampa Bay area, protesters have taken to the streets for nearly a week in the wake of George Floyd's death.

Floyd's death caught the nation's attention after a viral video showed the 46-year-old Minnesota man struggling while in police custody back in late May. The video showed a white police officer, later identified as Derek Chauvin, kneeling on Floyd's neck.

Chauvin was initially charged with third-degree murder before Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison announced on Wednesday that Chauvin's charge upgraded to a second-degree murder. He’s also being charged with manslaughter.

The three other officers involved in the deadly incident -- Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane -- are being charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder for their role in Floyd's death.

Thursday's protests largely appeared peaceful though. Hundreds gathered first at Curtis Hixon where they chanted, held signs and spoke out against police brutality, inequality.

"To bring justice to George Floyd to bring justice to all black lives and to bring peace to everybody," said 10-year old Gianna Washington.

"I think it’s great because we thought we fixed this years ago but it’s still happening today so we have to make sure we finish it this time correctly," said 9-year old Yulander Wells.

Protesters spent several hours marching throughout downtown sharing their message.

"It’s been years and years of the same stuff and I just feel like everybody’s tired of it. We have to come out we have to stand together and show them why we’re out here," said Anissa Fitz. "We’re out here because of injustices against black people and we’re tired of it and I appreciate everybody that’s out here it’s great energy."

In a powerful moment, they returned to Curtis Hixon where they all kneeled, held up their fists and stayed silent for the amount of time George Floyd suffered.