'I made a mistake': Man apologizes for role in local George Floyd protests that spun out of control
TAMPA, Fla. - A man is apologizing for his role in the Tampa Bay area demonstrations in the wake of George Floyd's death that spun out of control.
Lewis Darden, was seen on surveillance video early in the morning on May 31, 2020, going into the RaceTrac gas station on Fowler along with dozens of looters. Several were seen just before smashing the glass on the side doors with numerous hard objects.
"I just want to show the world that I made a mistake," he said during an interview with Fox 13. "I am paying for my mistake."
Darden was identified by an anonymous caller who saw the surveillance images, and he has since been sentenced to four years probation.
"Your actions had nothing to do with helping Mr. Floyd," a judge said during his arraignment.
Darden said he was originally there to protest the death of George Floyd, the man who died after Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pinned him to the ground and pressed his knee on Floyd's neck even as he cried out repeatedly that he couldn't breathe.
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"I have been in tough situations myself," he said of encounters with police. "I don't feel like elaborating on it right now, I have been in tough situations before. That could have been me."
Darden admits he has a lengthy criminal history, having been booked on 50 charges since 1997, including three stints in state prison. But, he said counseling for mental health and substance abuse is working.
Records show he has not been arrested in Hillsborough County since this incident.
"I just want to say don't make the same mistakes I did. It's OK to protest. There are better ways to get your point across than tearing up your community," Darden said.
He said after the peaceful protests ended, he got caught up in crowds who became bent on destruction. Police wrote he stole drinks at the RaceTrac, then damaged equipment at a T-Mobile cell phone store.
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"A lot of people lost jobs," he said of the riot impacts. "People who work hard to build those businesses, they don't have anything to go to now."
He has found work as a security guard, and said speaking out is as much about apologizing as it is about putting this ugly incident behind him.
"You have freedom of speech. There are better ways to [protest]," he said. "Organized ways to do it. Not tearing up your community, not stealing from people, robbing people. That is not how you get your point across."