Two men accused of attempting to block a busy exit ramp in Tampa, Florida, are now facing charges under a new anti-riot law.
On July 13, Julian Rodriguez-Rodriguez, 30, Maikel Vazquez-Pico, 39, were arrested after taking part in a highway protest at an exit ramp at I-275 and Dale Mabry Highway in Tampa. The two men are facing charges of battery on a law enforcement officer, resisting law enforcement, and taking part in an unlawful assembly that blocked streets or sidewalks.
Local news outlet KQH reports that 45 minutes after police ordered protesters to disperse, Vazquez-Pico and Rodriguez-Rodriguez attempted to walk onto I-275 from the ramp. The outlet says that Rodriguez-Rodriguez put a police officer into a bear hug and punched an officer in the face, continuing to resist arrest as he was handcuffed.
The two men were being held in the Hillsborough County Jail without bond.
The protesters were demonstrating to show support for anti-government protests taking place in Cuba.
Highway protesters also blocked the Palmetto Expressway on Tuesday and Wednesday evening.
The “Combatting Public Disorder Bill” was signed into law by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis in April 2021 and went into effect immediately.
The new law includes multiple wide-ranging measures designed to crack down on public rioting, including the creation of specific crimes for mob intimidation and cyber intimidation, creating new penalties for destroying monuments and historic property, and increasing the penalties for offenses like assault, battery, battery on a law enforcement officer, criminal mischief, burglary, and theft when these crimes are committed during or in furtherance of a riot. The law includes provisions to protect police departments form defunding.
HB1 also contains measures to increase the penalties for individuals who “willfully obstruct the free, convenient, and normal use of a public street, highway or road.” Under the new law, the former misdemeanor crime of blocking the highway became a felony, with possible penalties of 15 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.
“We also have penalties for people who commandeer highways. You’re driving home from work and all the sudden you have people out there shutting down a highway. There needs to be swift penalties, that just cannot be something that can happen,” DeSantis said at the time of the signing.
Tampa police shared body cam video from the protests and arrests on Tuesday, which you can view below.