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Police release more details about arrest of 20 protesters and detention of reporter

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Sophia Schmidt, Delaware Public Media
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A screen shot of drone footage of the scene released by the Dover Police Department

Police have released additional information about the arrests of several protesters — and detention of a journalist — Tuesday night.

Delaware State Police confirmed Wednesday that twenty of the 22 individuals detained Tuesday at a protest on Route 13 near Camden were charged. 

Dover Post reporter Andre Lamar was among the two released without being charged. He was handcuffed and detained despite telling police he was with the press. Lamar said over Facebook Live after being released Tuesday that protesters were acting peacefully when they were arrested. 

"People were advocating for racial equality, and they were tackled like they were animals," he said.

State police say the protestors engaged in “threatening behavior,” obstructed traffic and refused to comply with police orders to disperse. They are each being charged with four disorderly conduct misdemeanors. Four are also being charged with resisting arrest, and three with hindering prosecution. All have been released.

Protesters in Wilmington have blocked traffic on I-95 twice. The News Journal reports no arrests were made during those demonstrations. State police spokesperson Heather Pepper declined to comment Wednesday on the difference in police responses to the two situations.

Dover Police Department assisted Delaware State Police in the arrests. Dover police released a statement Wednesday afternoon saying officers did not know Lamar was a member of the press until they detained him. 

Dover police claim Lamar only donned a press credential lanyard after officers began putting protesters in handcuffs and zipties.  They say Lamar rummaged through his backpack, and a Dover police officer deemed this action a “public and officer safety concern.”

Dover police said in the statement the department has made “every effort” to engage and support the “core group” of protesters in Dover over the past week. Throughout the week, protesters “both armed and unarmed” started to encroach on private property and jump into active lanes of traffic on Route 13, Dover police said. These actions came close to causing “chain reaction crashes,” according to police, and caused multiple drivers to call 911 “out of fear.” Dover police say protesters cancelled a meeting with police planned for Tuesday afternoon.

Dover and state police began enforcement actions later that day based on protesters’ “persistent disorderly conduct and defiance of a lawful order to disperse," according to Dover police.

Officials with the state Department of Justice directed Delaware State Police to release Lamar Tuesday night, according to DOJ spokesperson Mat Marshall.

"We told them to release him and they did," he wrote in a text message.

Pepper declined to comment Wednesday on why Delaware State Police released Lamar. She also declined to specify how long protesters were detained for.

State Attorney General Kathy Jennings had previously praised the way Wilmington, Dover and state police handled the protests over George Floyd's death.

“It’s not a time to really even be proportionate,” she said last week. “This is a time to be restrained, and to be respectful. And to open our hearts.”

Jennings appeared to speak out against the arrest of protesters on Twitter Tuesday.

"I’ve been clear with law enforcement that I do not believe civil disobedience should be treated criminally and that peaceful protestors should not be harmed," she wrote after the incident. "People have a right to free speech and to peaceable assembly in this country and our goal—regardless of their message or their ideology—is to ensure that they can exercise that right safely. Period."

Gov. John Carney also weighed in.

"Reporters have a fundamental right to cover the demonstrations we’re seeing in Delaware and across our country,” Carney tweeted Tuesday night. “They should not be arrested for doing their jobs. That’s not acceptable.”

Garrison Davis and Shyanne Miller, co-coordinators of the group Delaware for Police Oversight, released a statement Wednesday calling the arrests and detentions “a gross violation of our first amendment right to speech, assembly, and press.”

“It’s clear that without properly holding law enforcement accountable, they will gladly extend beyond the measures of their power,” they wrote. “Our elected officials must do better. Our lives depend on it.”

The ACLU of Delaware also spoke out against the arrests. “A free press and the right to protest are essential to our democracy and are protected by the First Amendment,” the organization tweeted Tuesday night. “We will continue to monitor this issue.”

In its statement, the Dover Police Department expressed that it “stands with the community on difficult issues and will support peaceful and lawful protest."

“Despite the actions that officers were forced to take on June 9th, we remain 100 percent committed to working with citizens and having productive conversations that lead to meaningful and positive change in law enforcement and our community as a whole,” the statement reads.

Sophia Schmidt is a Delaware native. She comes to Delaware Public Media from NPR’s Weekend Edition in Washington, DC, where she produced arts, politics, science and culture interviews. She previously wrote about education and environment for The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA. She graduated from Williams College, where she studied environmental policy and biology, and covered environmental events and local renewable energy for the college paper.
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