Protests in Tampa: Your Rights & Tips If You’re Arrested

Protests are erupting across the country following George Floyd’s tragic death while in Minneapolis police custody. Tampa is no different and tensions have grown thick. Sometimes turning violent, demonstrations across the city have resulted in over 75 arrests and 40 businesses severely damaged in Hillsborough County over the weekend.

Amid the unrest, people are asking about what they can do, how they can help, and what would happen if I’m arrested?

Everyone has the right to protest, but no one should have to live with a criminal conviction for exercising their rights and speaking out against injustice. While bringing attention to police brutality is long overdue, we cannot stress enough that you should do so peacefully.

With more tensions reaching new limits and more protests likely, we want people to be aware of their legal rights during a protest and what to expect if they are stopped or arrested.

If you or a loved one are charged with a crime at a Tampa-area protest, stay calm and contact a lawyer. Call attorney Brett Metcalf at (813) 258-4800 for a free consultation.

Attending a Tampa Protests? Know Your Rights

Protests and other demonstrations are often large and hectic environments. Organization will vary tremendously, but even in the most tumultuous setting, the First Amendment protects your right to assemble and speak freely.

Protests on Public Property

Protesters are usually allowed in most public spaces, like city streets, sidewalks, and parks. You can also protest in front of government buildings, like police departments and courthouses if you do not obstruct access or interfere with its normal operations.

However, your first amendment rights are limited on private property. Specifically, property owners have a say in what happens on their property. So in the event that a protest spills onto private property, you are exposing yourself to trespassing charges.

Do Protests Need Permits in Tampa?

Most of the time, permits are not required for a protest so long as the demonstration does not obstruct traffic. If you don’t have a permit, the police may ask protesters to move.

Can I Record or Take Photos?

When you are lawfully in any public space – even at a protest, you have the right to photograph or take video of anything in plain view. This includes the police.

The police should not interfere with you recording their interactions with the public, but it is known to happen, especially when their actions can be challenged. If this occurs, politely assert your right to record or take photos unless you are on private property or if doing so creates a hazard.

What if the Tampa Police Stop Me?

When it comes to interacting with police at a protest, try to remain calm and collected. Obviously, this will be difficult since you came to the event to share your frustrations and desire for change. However, avoid making threats or comments to officers that may be interpreted as eliciting violence.

If you are stopped for questioning or suspect that you’ll be arrested, you have the right to ask why. If the officer can’t or won’t provide a reason, ask them directly if you are free to leave. Do not resist or become combative if the officer says no or applies force.

Just follow their commands because at this point it’s likely that you’ll be taken into custody. It’s always best to avoid further obstruction or resisting arrest charges and to have a lawyer handle the situation from there.

Can the Police Search Me or Confiscate My Property?

You never have to consent to a search of yourself or your belongings. But if you do explicitly consent, it can affect you later.

The police may “pat down” your clothing if they suspect you have a weapon and may search you after an arrest. But they may not confiscate or demand to view your photographs or video without a warrant, nor may they delete things from your phone. They can only order you to stop doing so if you are interfering with legitimate operations.

Can the Police Order Crowds to Disperse?

Saturday night’s protests in Tampa saw police launching bean bags and tear gas at protesters in an effort to break up the crowds. And while unconfirmed, some protesters claimed these actions came without provocation.

Orders to disperse should be the last resort to end a protest, but these tactics have strict guidelines. For instance, the police cannot break up a lawful protest unless there is a clear and present danger of riot, disorder, or other immediate threat.

When the police issue an order to disperse, they must provide you with a reasonable timeframe to comply. This means giving you an opportunity to leave peaceably and a clear path to do so prior to taking action. Additionally, the police must explain that failure to comply will result in you being arrested and charged.

What if I’m Arrested at a Protest?

Stay calm and keep your hands visible. Don’t argue, resist, or obstruct in any way – even if you believe they are violating your rights.

If you are arrested at a protest, you will be restrained and taken to a nearby facility for processing. This location can vary based on the circumstances and capacity of local police departments. Things may be hectic and sometimes protesters are not immediately made aware of the charges against them, read their rights, or treated particularly well.

Memorize Details and Report Injuries

Try to learn the officer’s name, badge number, or other identifying details. If you suffered injuries, request medical attention right away and take photos if possible. Also keep any forms relating to your arrest, charges, or when to appear in court.

Write A Lawyer’s Number on Your Body

Before the protest starts, tell your friends and family where you are going and what to do if you are in custody. The HCSO Arrest Inquiry system is a good place to start but databases like this may be unreliable immediately following a protest.

Finally, it is always a good idea to have the number of a trusted lawyer with you during a protest. Remember that your phone and other personal items may be taken if you are arrested, so it may be wise to write the number on your arm in permeant marker or memorize it.

When you contact an attorney for assistance, try to provide the following information if possible:

  • Your Full Name
  • Date of Birth
  • Location of Arrest
  • Jail or Facility You’re Being Held
  • Bail Amount if Applicable
  • A Family/Contact Number
    • Arrested at a Tampa Protest? Call Brett Metcalf

      These protests should drive us to improve our legal system, but sadly Tampa will likely see more protests, clashes with police, and arrests. We believe in your rights, and want to be part of the solution to police misconduct and brutality. As a Tampa native, Brett Metcalf wants to ensure your rights are respected and you are protected.

      If you were arrested in a protest or plan to attend a demonstration in the area and want legal help, an experienced lawyer is ready.

      Call attorney Metcalf 24/7 for a free and confidential consultation: (813) 258-4800.