Three PRO Gainesville activists could turn themselves in to authorities Thursday, Sept. 3.
On Wednesday, Sept. 2, the Gainesville Police Department issued a press release saying warrants had been obtained for three Gainesville residents — Torrey Lynne Henderson, 27; Amara Jana Ridge, 23; and Justin Royce Thompson, 25 — on Class B misdemeanor charges of obstructing a highway or other passageway. The offense is punishable by up to 180 days in jail, up to $2,000 in fines or both.
“We will continue to look for them until they turn themselves in, of course,” Gainesville Police Chief Kevin Phillips said.
Thompson said by phone Wednesday that all three are organizers with PRO Gainesville and they plan to turn themselves in today.
PRO Gainesville is a Gainesville-based activist group that has been calling since June for the removal of the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument that stands on the northeast corner of the courthouse. The more than 100-year-old monument has been the focus of major protests since July. Counter-protesters have been at each of PRO Gainesville’s major protests.
“We feel like this is retaliation against us calling them [GPD] out at the protest,” Thompson said.
A press release from the organization was reportedly being worked on, according to Thompson, but had not been received as of press time.
Phillips said the department has been doing its best to “keep the peace.” However, the PRO Gainesville group has been warned many times to obey the law, he said.
The warrants stem from a protest the local activist group held Sunday, Aug. 30, in which participants walked from the Cooke County Courthouse several blocks east on California Street then turned back west.
In about the 300 block of East California Street, “the majority of the group left the sidewalk and moved into the street rendering the westbound lane impassable,” Phillips said in a press release. He added a Gainesville police officer who had accompanied the group told participants repeatedly to return to the sidewalk, “but they refused.”
The group kept walking in the roadway until reaching Dixon Street, where participants crossed the intersection diagonally, Phillips said.
He said representatives from GPD and other local law enforcement agencies have met with PRO Gainesville members several times “to assist with the planning of the protest events.”
The charges, Phillips said, are a matter of public safety.
“Law enforcement personnel have made it clear on numerous occasions that there would be zero tolerance for obstructing any roadways in the absence of a permit issued by the city of Gainesville,” Phillips said in the release. “The unauthorized obstruction of any roadway presents a serious public safety risk to the citizens of Gainesville and those participating in the obstruction activity. The obstruction causes delays for emergency equipment and causes a disruption to normal traffic flows. It also exposes those in the roadway to risk of serious bodily injury or death should a vehicle negligently or intentionally strike persons in the roadway.”
Phillips told the Register that the last time Pro Gainesville was issued a permit was for its Aug. 16 march. The city stopped issuing permits for anything on the courthouse grounds around Aug. 11. Those events are now referred to Cooke County Judge Jason Brinkley’s office.
Brinkley said since it’s a public square, the public does not need a permit to gather.
“We can set certain reasonable restrictions to maintain and protect the building and grounds,” he said.
PRO Gainesville has held two marches since the last permit was issued.
“Each time they march without a permit with a PA [public address system] it is a violation of the law,” Phillips said, adding they also aren’t supposed to walk in the street and block the flow of traffic.
As of press time, nobody has been issued a ticket for using a megaphone in connection with the PRO Gainesville events, according to police.
GPD continues to investigate and other persons who participated in the obstruction of the roadway are still being identified, according to the release.
Phillips said Wednesday afternoon that the department hasn’t decided if they are going to move forward on other arrest warrants.
Anyone with information is asked to contact the Gainesville Police Department by calling 940-668-7777, or through Facebook at Facebook.com/GTPolice. Those wishing to remain anonymous can contact the Crimes Tip Hotline at 940-612-0000.
Editor Sarah Einselen contributed to this report.