No charges for those who painted 'Back the Blue' mural, or for those who painted over it

Prosecutors in Tampa say they’ve charged dozens of people in connection with Tampa’s riots earlier this year, but they have opted not to charge several people arrested more recently for painting -- and painting over -- murals.

The State Attorney’s Office says it has filed a total of 264 charges against 120 different people for looting, burglary, theft, and attacking police during and after the protests that turned violent in the wake of George Floyd’s death back in late May.

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Two-thirds of those charges are felonies, each carrying a potential penalty of at least five years in prison if convicted.

But prosecutors will not pursue criminal charges against the group that painted an unpermitted “Back the Blue” mural on a downtown street near TPD headquarters a month ago. Nor will they charge the four people who painted over that mural in the middle of the night just days later.

“The evidence available does not establish beyond a reasonable doubt the individuals responsible acted with willful or malicious intent to damage property as required under Florida law,’ the State Attorney’s Office said about both cases.

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Prosecutors are also not going to charge the seven people arrested for trying to paint a mural in Curtis Hixon Park a few days after that

“These types of cases involve tough decisions,” the State Attorney’s Office press release noted. “Our guiding principle is to distinguish between people committing crimes for personal gain or to cause destruction versus protestors whose aim is to make their voices heard. The 264 charges filed to date make it clear that we will prosecute those who seek to harm our community, but it is counterproductive to criminally prosecute people who are exercising their First Amendment rights—especially when other options exist to address questionable behavior, such as civil citations.

Prosecutors are pressing ahead with the case against Noah Armstrong, though. He has been charged with reckless driving for allegedly driving through a group of protestors on July 4.