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Supporters rally at first court date for Tampa 5

By Simon Rowe

Rally outside arraignment of Tampa 5 demands the charges be dropped.

Tampa, FL – On May 17, over 40 people rallied outside a courthouse in support of the Tampa 5 during their arraignment. Tampa Bay Students for a Democratic Society and Tampa Bay Community Action Committee hosted a press conference followed by a protest against the attacks on protesters in Florida.

The Tampa 5 are Chrisley Carpio, Gia Davila, Laura Rodriguez, Jeanie Kida and Lauren Pineiro, students and workers beaten and arrested by University of South Florida police at a March 6 campus protest.

An hour before the 11 a.m. arraignment, the Tampa 5 spoke to the press about the case and the repression they experienced. On March 6, the University of South Florida Police Department brutally arrested four people at a Tampa Bay Students for a Democratic Society protest against Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ attacks on education. All four were charged with misdemeanors, resisting an officer without violence and disruption of an educational institution, and a felony, battery on a law enforcement officer.

In April, the Tampa 5 learned that three of them had their felony charges doubled to two charges each of battery on a law enforcement officer. As a result, they each now face up to ten years in prison, instead of five.

One protester not arrested on March 6, Lauren Pineiro, had charges – also one felony and two misdemeanors – filed one month later.

In addition to the criminal charges, USF academically charged three of the protesters enrolled in classes and suspended them. USF fired Chrisley Carpio, one protester who had worked at the university for seven years, in violation of her union contract as a member of AFSCME Local 3342.

“From the Tampa 5, we have to say that we condemn these escalated attacks from the state attorney’s office from prosecutor Justin Diaz and state attorney Susan Lopez, and doubling the felony counts and therefore increasing the maximum penalty time. Three of the five of us are now facing ten years, increased from five, for the simple act of protesting to save our schools and the crime of being attacked by the University of South Florida Police Department,” said Chrisley Carpio.

In April, state attorney Susan Lopez offered a plea deal to the Tampa 5 to drop their charges if they wrote letters of apology to every officer at the scene. The Tampa 5 rejected this plea deal and pleaded not guilty as a group. Prosecutor Justin Diaz responded by upping the felony counts from four to eight and moving forward with the charges.

“We are not guilty, and we are not sorry. We have the people and the truth on our side,” said Laura Rodriguez, one of the Tampa 5 and member of Tampa Bay Community Action Committee.

The lawyer representing the Tampa 5, Michelle Lambo, spoke of the right to free speech on college campuses and how USFPD used excessive force. Lambo also called for USFPD Chief Chris Daniel to be fired for groping a student during the protest.

Lambo stated, “The case law is clear: if law enforcement uses excessive force, you can defend yourself with force. In this matter, law enforcement used excessive force on students, on young people in their early twenties, mid-twenties. People in a safe space in a university that is protected by state statute as a safe space for the right to assemble and the right to free speech. And justice will prevail.”

Lambo continued, “And I am calling for the firing of Chief Daniel, who molested and assaulted Ms. Davila and it was caught on camera with his hand groping her gluteus maximus down into her inner thigh and then takes a seat to her legs where he proceeds to take his camera out, his cell phone out, and take a photograph as a trophy. We will be subpoenaing all his cell phone records to see what exactly he was doing while he was sitting on top of her with his phone out. This is unacceptable, unprofessional, and he needs to be fired immediately,”

Attorney Lambo entered the courthouse for the arraignment at 11:00, SDS and TBCAC began their protest with chants of “Protesting is not a crime! Justice for the Tampa 5!” Speakers from many groups spoke in support and connected the case to the DeSantis administration’s attacks on social movements.

“The Tampa 5 continued to tell their story and stand up against DeSantis and his attacks on education time and time again because they know this is not only about their case but about the future of this state,” said Laith Abdel Hader, member of Tampa Bay Community Action Committee.

The protest at this arraignment was not the first action in support of the Tampa 5. Tampa Bay SDS raised thousands in a bail fund to release the four protesters arrested on March 6. Dozens of groups across the country wrote statements of support. Groups held solidarity protests in the following cities: Chicago, Illinois; Denver, Colorado; Minneapolis, Minnesota; towns Michigan; New Orleans, Louisiana; Seattle, Washington; Tallahassee, Florida, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Thousands signed petitions in support of the Tampa 5.

“We can’t stop fighting and we can’t allow our fellow protesters to go to jail for standing up for what's right. Let's show DeSantis and the state attorney that we won't back down!” declared Eithne Silva, member of Tampa Bay Students for a Democratic Society.

The next court date for the Tampa 5 is July 12. The case is likely to continue for months. Due to no USFPD officers from March 6 being present to be questioned during the student conduct hearings, the students plan to appeal their suspensions from the university for being denied due process. The fired USF worker filed a grievance against her termination. Her union AFSCME local 3342 is willing to take her case to arbitration.

Regardless of the outcome of the Tampa 5 case, the individuals charged along with SDS and TBCAC will continue to exercise their right to protest Ron DeSantis and the state of Florida’s attacks on freedom.

#TampaFL #Tampa5