(St. Petersburg, Florida)—On Saturday, September 26, a peaceful demonstration against racial injustice led by St. Pete Peace Protest turned violent when an alt-right counter-protester drew a handgun, chambered a round, and pointed it at protesters immediately after committing battery against a woman, according to Megan Fernandez of Fernandez Bardine Law, an attorney representing the group and the victims Ms. Cox and Mr. Wombough.
Ms. Cox and Mr. Wombough have filed formal criminal reports with the St. Petersburg Police Department.
St. Pete Peace Protest is aware of an emerging public narrative—propagated by the St. Petersburg Police Department—that two of their peaceful demonstrators, both of whom are young Black men, brandished weapons during the protest. This erroneous position has been advanced by the police department’s release to numerous media outlets of misleading photographs showing what law enforcement claim are knives.
Unfortunately, the media have decided to publish these photographs without conducting due diligence and in the face of photographic evidence that neither Black demonstrator displayed a weapon during the protest.
In response to this erroneous reporting, Fernandez Bardine Law, who furnished the accurate photographic evidence to the media, released the following statement to the Tampa Bay Times:
“We have reviewed hours of video footage and dozens of photographs from the protests Saturday night, including the images that the St. Pete Police Department has provided the Tampa Bay Times. Upon our review, we can categorically say that no knives are shown in the photographic evidence we have reviewed. In the footage, the man wearing the red plaid shirt is holding a black flip phone in his hand, and the shirtless man is holding his belt. We have spoken to multiple witnesses who can corroborate this information. We have also reviewed video that clearly shows that, at the time the counter-protester pulled out his gun and pointed it, his attention was not on the man alleged to have had a weapon, suggesting that he did not believe the man to have a weapon, either. Instead, he pointed his gun at an independent documentarian who was filming the incident. That person has come forward and will be making a report to the St. Pete Police Department. Photographic evidence suggests that nothing in the gunman’s body language or behavior indicates fear. Additionally, we have provided photographic evidence that suggests the gunman was consuming alcohol moments before brandishing his firearm- a firearm that was concealed from view in the waistband of the gunman’s shorts. Further, immediately before brandishing his weapon, the gunman pushed a female protester to the ground, causing her to be hospitalized with a concussion, contusions, and a probable broken tail bone. That woman has come forward and will also be filing a report with the St. Pete Police Department.
St. Pete Peace Protest is committed to peaceful assembly, as their name connotes. The organization has members trained in de-escalation to ensure this mission, and that team was present and active during the protest. The only aggressors on Saturday night were the members of the alt-right.”
The photographs Fernandez Bardine Law provided to the Tampa Bay Times are re-published with this news advisory. Notwithstanding this correction of the record, the damage may be done, counsel for the group fears.
“It is stunning that, after providing photographs clearly showing two men with a phone and a belt respectively, the media chose only to run the extremely misleading photographs in the coverage. Running the photos that the police provided without running the photos we provided, one of which showing a belt so clearly that you could see that it was brown leather, is a shocking choice that cannot in any stretch of the imagination be considered journalism in the true sense of the word. In making the choices they have made, the media and the police department have put the lives and freedoms of innocent young Black men in jeopardy. It is a choice that fan the flames that have brought us to this pivotal place in our history,” said Ms. Fernandez.
Johnny Bardine, Ms. Fernandez’s law partner, was similarly disappointed by media and police carelessness.
“As a direct result of the media’s negligence and the police department’s malfeasance, these young men will be tried in the court of public opinion, and there is no doubt in our minds that those who wish to cause them—as well as other peace protesters—harm will be emboldened. The Tampa Bay Times has taken a story about a gun being brandished and made it yet another hit piece on two young Black men by choosing one set of photos over the other, and that is shameful and dangerous,” Mr. Bardine said.
While the footage the attorneys have reviewed shows that neither peaceful protester possessed a knife, it does illuminate several other crimes perpetuated by the alt-right counter-protesters. Specifically, according to Ms. Fernandez, the footage shows the assault of both adults and minors, various acts of battery, and the use of hate speech directed toward the peaceful demonstrators.
“More victims are finding the courage to come forward and we anticipate filing additional criminal complaints in the coming days,” Ms. Fernandez said.
As of the date of this news advisory, the identity of the gunman is still unknown. Only one officer was present at the protest directly following the incident. This officer was approached onsite with witness and video corroboration. Although the officer spoke to the gunman, the officer declined to review the video evidence or take down the gunman’s name, a decision that Police Chief Anthony Holloway called “a mistake” in his remarks to the Tampa Bay Times. Fernandez Bardine Law implores anyone with information that could lead to the gunman’s apprehension to immediately contact the St. Petersburg Police Department.
Below is one example of recent media coverage, where the story was completely botched, and media ran with inaccurate photos distributed by St. Petersburg Police.
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