Multiple organizations are calling for an independent investigation into the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office’s use of force at a protest at Hemming Park on Friday night.
Officers arrested six people in the park during a protest against President Donald Trump’s airstrike in Syria.
Action News Jax’s video appears to show JSO officers tackling protester Connell Crooms, punching him while he flailed on the ground.
Officers also reportedly put an elderly man in a headlock and restrained a young woman on the ground after she struck at an officer’s face with her hand.
The man who many accuse of provoking the protesters, outspoken President Trump and law enforcement supporter Gary Snow, said he has “no regrets” about getting in protesters’ faces with a bullhorn and flicking off Crooms.
Jacksonville Progressive Coalition organizer Richard Blake said the fight could have been prevented if JSO had separated the protesters from the counter-protesters.
“They knew who those counter-protesters were and why they were there, and they had our concerns, and I think they made a decision to do nothing,” Blake said.
Action News Jax law and safety expert Dale Carson said JSO officers had a responsibility to separate the two sides to prevent the situation from escalating.
“I don’t think there’s any question they did. And I think they failed in that regard,” Carson said.
Blake’s version of what he said Snow did to provoke Crooms is different from what the video appears to show.
“He put his hand right on Connell’s face. And Connell was the original deaf black man who was arrested and brutally beat down by the police,” Blake said.
The video does not appear to show Snow touching Crooms’ face, although it does show Snow putting his forearm on Crooms’ chest.
“Gary reaches over the officer, puts his middle finger right on Connell’s face, right in front of it, and at that point, the cop goes for Connell and Gary walks away,” Blake said.
Video actually appears to show that the officer took Crooms down after he lunged at Snow in response to that middle finger.
“If you get triggered because someone flips you off, that’s not my fault, you know?” Snow said.
During the arrests, police allowed Snow to stay nearby and continue to taunt the protesters.
Snow denied his critics’ allegations that he’s paid to agitate at protests.
“If I’m a paid protester, then I have a monopoly on the market because I’m the only one. That’s a false allegation,” Snow said.
Florida law makes it a misdemeanor to interrupt or disturb a group of people lawfully assembling. Police have never arrested Snow under that statute.
Sheriff Mike Williams did not respond to Action News Jax’s request for an interview, but released a statement that says, in part:
“We take reasonable precautions to protect those attempting to engage in peaceful demonstrations. But as a result of Friday night’s criminal activity, there is a new dynamic involved in Jacksonville that has prompted me to look at how we manage protests. I am working with my leadership team to determine what new protocols may be put into place to successfully manage these events moving forward.
"We encourage any group who is planning to gather in assembly or protest in a public arena to contact their Zone Office so we can work together to ensure a safe and lawful outcome.”
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