Two Charleston-area men who led groups of civil rights activists through downtown on Sunday were arrested for doing so without a permit and also charged with disorderly conduct Tuesday night.
Justin Hunt and David Austin Bennett were arrested late Tuesday near Marion Square after a small vigil marking guilty verdicts of the former Minneapolis police officer convicted of killing George Floyd. Both Hunt and Bennett were given the same charges.
According to Charleston Police Department, both men were involved with an anti-police brutality protest and march organized April 18 that led up to 150 people through downtown streets before meeting a line of police in riot gear when trying to march to King Street. Aside from the short standoff on Society Street, police said, participants remained on sidewalks and did not block traffic.
Hunt said in a Facebook livestream that his group, Stand as One, had been denied permits previously. CPD says the group did not seek a parade permit for Sunday’s event. Hunt did not respond to a message from the City Paper Wednesday morning.
“While we are going to great lengths to support the rights of peaceful protesters to be heard,” CPD Chief Luther Reynolds said in a statement, “We will continue charging persons who deliberately disobey the law and create unsafe conditions for residents, businesses, protesters and public safety officials.”
Earlier Tuesday, Hunt said he visited the Al Cannon Detention Center to meet with law enforcement officials as an activist community leader, discussing jail conditions and inmate needs. By the end of the day, he was an inmate himself.
Tuesday’s arrests came hours after former Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty of murder in the death of George Floyd last May. Floyd’s death touched off large-scale protests, including in Charleston, where some caused destruction along parts of upper King Street.
After leaving a small group of activists in Marion Square, both men were arrested without incident nearby as they returned to their cars, according to police reports. Bennett, who is a concealed weapons permit holder, had five guns in his car that were also taken into police custody upon his arrest.
Hunt was initially released shortly after midnight, but said in a Facebook livestream that he was told he was released by mistake and ordered to report to the jail. Officials have not responded to inquiries about Hunt’s initial release. Both men paid a bond to be released, according to county jail records.
A press conference is scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday outside the Al Cannon Detention Center to discuss the week’s events.