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Sheriff: More than 70 arrested, five officers injured in Jacksonville protests

Sheriff Mike Williams (at podium) speaks during a press conference Tuesday along with Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry (left) and Florida Highway Patrol Major Steve Harris. [Teresa Stepzinski/Florida Times-Union/TNS]

Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams said the city made more than 70 arrests during the weekend protests and discussed the office’s policy on body cameras during a news conference Tuesday with Mayor Lenny Curry and Florida Highway Patrol Major Steve Harris following unrest downtown.

Williams said that 25 arrests were made Saturday and 53 Sunday with charges including breach of peace, unlawful assembly and attempting to make an explosive device. Of that group, 23 Saturday and 39 Sunday were from Duval County.

The sheriff said that items including a Molotov cocktail, gas-filled balloons and a handgun were found during Sunday’s protests.

Williams said most of those arrested who were from outside the area are from Florida.

He also said that five officers were injured, four Saturday and one Sunday. The sheriff previously announced Saturday night that one officer had been “slashed in the neck.” That officer was later released from the hospital.

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The other injuries Saturday, he said, came in two cases from thrown bricks and one case from thrown debris.

Williams also said that six vehicles from JSO and one from the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department were damaged Saturday.

Those incidents followed the Caravan for Justice on Saturday, a peaceful protest against police brutality that drew what Williams estimated as 3,000 people.

Williams said that JSO estimated that around 400 of the protesters remained Saturday night. He said that most of this group remained peaceful, but as the evening progressed, there were several instances of thrown rocks and bottles.

On Sunday, Williams said some protesters were dropped off later in the day, and said some of these represented an “influence” intending to exacerbate tensions.

“Not busloads of people from out of town,” Williams said, “but it doesn’t take but two or three.”

On Sunday, Williams said some members of the group began blocking traffic, throwing bottles and attempting to block the Main Street Bridge. He said that police issued “several commands to disperse” before making arrests.

“Our posture was not to allow incremental steps toward a riot again,” Williams said.

Williams said there are “active conversations” about body camera policy, but did not commit to releasing body camera video in several high-profile shootings of black residents. Releasing that video was among the chief requests of the Caravan for Justice protesters.

Williams said one arrest was made during Monday’s much smaller protest. He said that no further protests are expected in town.

“You can’t go from breaking the law back to peaceful protest,” Williams said. “We’re not going to allow that to happen.”

Curry blamed the damage caused overnight Saturday on a small number of “bad actors,” crediting the peaceful attitude of the main body of the protesters.

“They followed a proud American tradition and raised their voices loud and clear,” Curry said.

Curry also said a small firebomb was thrown in the early-morning hours Tuesday, but was quickly extinguished without injuries or significant damage.

Williams also read a statement denouncing the actions of the Minneapolis police officers in the death of George Floyd on Memorial Day. One Minnesota officer is charged with murder after video showed him pressing his knee into the neck of Floyd — unarmed, handcuffed and calling out that he could not breathe — for eight minutes and 46 seconds.

“It’s not a training issue. It’s not a mistake,” Williams said. “It’s just a murder.”

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© 2020 The Florida Times-Union