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Jacksonville 19: Police return some seized phones, hold others

By staff

Activists demand State Attorney Angela Corey return all belongings and 'Drop the Charges Now'

Jacksonville, FL – On Dec. 15, the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office returned some of the phones they seized from the 19 protesters who shut down the Hart Bridge last week.

The protesters, dubbed the Jacksonville 19 by local activists and media, stopped traffic on the bridge on Dec. 8 to demand justice for Eric Garner. Garner was the African American man who the NYPD choked, leading to his death. A New York grand jury refused to indict the white police officer Daniel Pantaleo, adding fuel to the flames of a nationwide protest movement against racism and police brutality.

Sheriff’s office staff called several protesters to let them know that they could pick up their phones from evidence. As of Dec. 15, police were still holding cameras belonging to protesters, and many phones and electronic storage devices remained in custody.

Police seized every phone, camera and other storage device from protesters after arresting them for obstructing traffic. Officers claimed they were seizing these personal belongings to use as evidence against the protesters and to identify the people who attended another protest earlier on the same day.

The Jacksonville Sheriff Office sergeant at the scene originally told protesters that they would receive verbal warnings and written citations for the offense, which is a misdemeanor in Florida. Activists say that the protesters were arrested after a communication from Jacksonville Sheriff John Rutherford, who gave the order to arrest everyone.

Immediately after the arrests on Dec. 8, the Jacksonville Progressive Coalition called an emergency jailhouse protest outside the John E. Goode Pre-trial Detention Facility, where police held the protesters for several hours. More than 30 people assembled outside chanting “Jail killer cops, not justice protesters!” and “Free the Jax justice fighters!”

With support from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, all 19 protesters were released or bonded out on Dec. 9.

One of the 19, Siddie Friar, was charged with two felonies. Police claim that Friar resisted arrest with violence and assaulted an officer. At a separate bond hearing for Friar on Dec. 9, State Attorney Angela Corey's office asked the judge to raise Friar's bond, using Facebook posts as evidence of her political activity. According to activists present at the bond hearing, some of the Facebook posts presented by prosecutors were obtained through Friar's phone. Friar was eventually released with the same bond as the others.

Police are still holding Friar's phone, along with many other devices.

The court appearance dates for the Jacksonville 19 are set for late December and early January. The Jacksonville Progressive Coalition, along with several other organizations, is calling on State Attorney Angela Corey to return all seized belongings to the protesters immediately and to drop all charges on the Jacksonville 19.

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