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Members of NOW arrested at USF

The police were rough, organization members say. Officers did what they thought necessary at the protest, a USF police sergeant says.

By JOSH ZIMMER, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 2, 2002

The police were rough, organization members say. Officers did what they thought necessary at the protest, a USF police sergeant says.

TAMPA -- Three members of the National Organization for Women were arrested Saturday morning while protesting the Promise Keepers conference at the University of South Florida Sun Dome.

Two protesters disputed the police version of events, saying they were treated roughly and should not have been arrested.

Mary Cecil, 59, of Lutz said one USF police officer threw her against the hood of a police car before handcuffing her.

"It did hurt," she said.

Police charged Cecil, Toni Van Pelt, 54, of St. Petersburg, and her brother, Anthony Mazzo, 52, of Tampa, with trespassing. Police also charged Van Pelt, the immediate past president of Florida NOW, with resisting arrest without violence.

NOW informed police on Friday that there would be a protest, said USF police Sgt. Mike Klingebiel. In response, police set up a separate protest area near the Sun Dome's main entrance. Police used several pieces of metal bicycle stands as barricades, Cecil said.

"We basically don't want the patrons to have a direct conflict with the protesters, but we don't want to deprive anyone of their First Amendment rights," Klingebiel said.

About a dozen protesters had gathered in the area by 8:45 a.m., Klingebiel said. Soon after, police noticed eight protesters confronting individual Promise Keepers outside the barricade.

Most of the protesters returned to the designated area after being asked to do so by police, he said. But Cecil, Van Pelt and Mazzo refused, prompting their arrests, he said.

Cecil remembers no more than a half dozen protesters being on the scene when the arrests took place. Although protesters questioned why the barricade was necessary, the group was moving toward the barricade when police started taking people into custody, she said.

"We were under the impression it was public property," Cecil said. "I walked over and got behind the barricade and several other people did. I looked up and saw Tony (Mazzo) being escorted to the police car."

Van Pelt was arrested about the same time.

"I went to get my purse . . . and (an officer) grabbed me by my arm and started throwing me," said Van Pelt, who accused the arresting officer of leaving bruise marks on her left biceps. "He smashed me up against the police car. He knocked all my signs and flyers on the ground. I was yelling, "Get your hands off of me! Get your hands off of me!' "

Klingebiel, who was not at the scene, said the officers "took what they felt were necessary actions."

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