Jury returns ‘not guilty’ verdict in Florida BLM activist Marlowe Jones’ trial
New Port Richie BLM leader Marlowe Jones. | Courtesy of Daniel Callaghan

NEW PORT RICHEY, Fla.—“Not guilty” is the verdict of a Pasco County Florida jury in the battery and obstruction case against a local leader of the Black Lives Matter movement. Marlowe Jones faced charges connected to a BLM rally in New Port Richey nearly two years ago. He was facing up to five years in prison.

On May 5, a jury deliberated just two hours before acquitting Jones of battery on a law enforcement officer and obstruction of justice. Because it involved a police officer, the battery charge was a felony; the other charge was a misdemeanor.

The alleged battery occurred at the end of a march by a group organized by the local Black Lives Matter organization in July 2020. The event was the culmination of a series of demonstrations in New Port Richey following the police murder of George Floyd in Minnesota. Protestors also raised issues of mistreatment and abuse by the local police.

The protests were not well received by some groups locally. Pasco County is home to several hate groups, including the Ku Klux Klan and the Proud Boys. For every BLM protest, there are counter-demonstrations, threats of violence, and even death threats.

On July 24, 2020, events did turn violent. Following the march, witnesses say a white man from Colorado, Patrick Oshnock, left a bar along the protest route, rushed up to the group, and assaulted a Black woman activist, Stephanie Hinkle, punching her in the face and knocking her down. Jones says he rushed over to her and, after a brief tussle, managed to push Oshnock away.  Witnesses say Oshnock then attacked another Black woman, one of the march’s legally armed security team, punching her in the face. Both fell to the ground.

A photo taken at the July 24, 2020, protest where Jones was accused by police of battery on an officer. | Courtesy of Daniel Callaghan

According to trial testimony, that’s when Officer Nicholas Rickus appeared, disarming the woman and laying the gun on the pavement next to Oshnock. Video taken by eyewitnesses and from one officer’s body cam show Jones stepping in to help the women. This is when Rickus said he reached for Jones, and Jones pushed his hand away. That was the alleged battery. Jones testified he tapped Rickus on the arm to direct him to the injured activist and to alert him to Oshnock’s actions. Videos introduced in the trial did not corroborate Rickus’ claims.

The prosecution case centered on the testimony of two police officers, Rickus and Officer Finch, who was at the protest. Finch testified that he was at the scene but did not see the battery nor did he hear Rickus say anything to Marlowe.  The defense case centered on Jones’ testimony. He told the court, “I am a young African American man and I value my life, so I would never touch an officer with a loaded gun in his hand.” Apparently, the jury believed him.

Jones was the leader and organizer of a Black Live Matter group that in 2020 mobilized numerous demonstrations over the police murder of George Floyd. Jones says he was targeted by the New Port Richey Police Department (NPRPD) because he was a key initiator of these protests. He says the NPRPD is hostile to the movement.

Jones’ attorney, Andrew Darling, told the Tampa Bay Times that he represented more than 20 protesters during the wave of George Floyd protests in 2020, and all cases were dismissed except for Jones’. Additionally, there have been controversies centered on other actions by local law enforcement. According to a Tampa Bay newspaper, a video posted on social media before this incident, titled “Creative Loafing,” shows police officers, on duty, praying with a group of Proud Boys, a known hate organization. The newspaper reported the chief of police said the officers did not know they were with that group.

In another incident, one officer posted on Facebook a photo of herself standing in front of a Confederate flag. According to the same newspaper report, the chief did not discipline that officer, saying that she was not wearing a uniform, so discipline was not appropriate. He did order her, however, to take down the photo.

Finally, an officer of NPRPD reportedly was dismissed from the force because he was sharing information with the Proud Boys about the time and place of the protests. None of this information came out in the trial.

Charges against one of the women attacked at the rally were later dropped. Oshnock, the man who struck the activist, was arrested and charged with misdemeanor battery, according to jail records. Rickus, according to New Port Richey police, left the department on his own in 2021.


Thomas Egan
Thomas Egan

Thomas Egan is a semi-retired lawyer who resides in Central Florida. He has traveled extensively on legal and human rights delegations in the Americas.