PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — Protesters who were arrested in Pinellas County, Florida, are being forced to stay in jail.
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri is denying them bond due to a policy change that includes non-violent misdemeanors. This move is in accordance with advice from the Chief Judge for the Sixth Circuit.
Kevin Grant went out to protest in St. Petersburg on June 2.
"Somebody has to do something and stand up for what they believe in so I chose to be a part of that as well," said Grant.
He said if he knew he’d end up spending a night in jail for it, he never would have gone out.
“It makes me sad because it’s wrong," said Grant. "All the while I was in there I was thinking about my son and how I want to see my son.”
That Tuesday night started off peaceful in St. Pete until someone tossed fireworks, the situation quickly turned chaotic.
According to the PCSO website, Grant is one of nearly 30 people the agency arrested this month for unlawful assembly.
Grant's arrest record says he refused to leave, but he denies that.
“When I read it, it said we refused to leave. I was on my way home. I was already out, I was at least a block away," he said.
The affidavit also says, "Per Chief Judge Rondalino/No bond."
“Very weird it was extremely weird," Grant said. "I’m thinking they were just going to let us out with a slap on the wrist ‘go home,’ but they kept us.”
We’re finding out from the Sixth Circuit, Sheriff Gualtieri contacted Chief Judge Anthony Rondolino about arrests during protests. The judge advised him there was “no statutory requirement that a bond be set before the first appearance.”
Due to that guidance, Grant and others stayed in jail with a bond denied until seeing a judge. The next day, a judge set Grant's bond at $1,000.
Grant says he didn't have any money or collateral to secure bond with a bail bondsman. He says a stranger, another protester, helped bail him out.
Criminal attorney Frank McDermott says this is unusual.
“I’ve never seen this before in my 20 years where folks are held on no bond before seeing a judge on such a low-level charge," he said.
He says denying bond is usually reserved for the worst of crimes.
"Typically on no bond, you'd have to be charged with a capital crime like murder," he said. "It's for the most serious crimes where the proof is very, very high."
He worries this will have a chilling effect on protesters who are within their constitutional rights to have their voices be heard in public.
Meanwhile, Sheriff Gualtieri is doubling down. He said the change to the bond policy is aimed at those who are violent.
He gave examples of individuals who threw rocks and other projectiles at officers and deputies.
“I have no problems with protesters, so that question misstates the facts. This isn't about protesters who are out there expressing the things they want to express. I have no issue with that. But this is about people who are committing violent acts," he said.
Nowhere in Grant’s affidavit does it show he committed violence. A box to indicate whether a weapon was seized is marked "no."
McDermott hopes the sheriff will restore the typical rules for bonding out.
“Just because you have the right to do something, as the sheriff’s office has done in this situation, doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do," he said.
Reporters reached out to other circuits to see whether this policy change is being seen elsewhere.
"The Twelfth Circuit does not have that same policy. Anyone arrested is eligible for the circuit’s bond schedule if it applies," said Donna Rhodes, Public Information Officer for the courts spanning across DeSoto, Manatee and Sarasota counties.
"We are not doing that here. In fact, on Friday, Judge Catlin who presides over First Appearance Court told me she has not seen any of the non-violent protesters in court. That would lead me to believe they are getting standard bonds and bonding out before having to appear in PP Court," said Mike Moore, with the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit representing Hillsborough County.
This article was written by Isabel Rosales for WFTS