9 arrested after Wednesday curfew in Sumter charged for "effort to incite unrest, violence against law enforcement"


Sumter police made nine arrests Wednesday night after the city’s curfew was put into place.

All the people arrested were reportedly within one group that has been trying to “disrupt local peaceful protests,” according to a news release from the Sumter Police Department, and they include eight adults and one juvenile.

Peaceful protests in response to the death of George Floyd, a black man, at the hands of a white police officer in Minneapolis on May 25 – in video captured by bystanders, he pleaded for air for nearly nine minutes as the officer knelt on his neck – began on Saturday in front of the police department on North Lafayette Road. Tensions grew each day after a group joined the protest “in an effort to incite unrest, violence against law enforcement officers and destruction to public and private property,” according to the agency.

The Sumter Item was on scene on Sunday and has been talking to the protest organizers daily since, and that separate group of six to eight women have said they understand the other group’s reaction, but the protest organizers wanted to remain peaceful.

Protests have been showing varying degrees of this split across the nation since Memorial Day. People, black and white, have been recorded and arrested for looting and vandalism, and police have been using force against both violent and peaceful protesters and journalists.

Days after Floyd’s death and after days of public outcry, the four officers involved were charged. First, Derek Chauvin, the officer who knelt on his neck, was charged with third-degree murder, which has since been upgraded to second-degree. The three other officers were just also charged with lesser offenses. All four were fired on May 26.

There were no arrests in Sumter Saturday-Tuesday, and no property was damaged on Wednesday night. According to law enforcement, the arrests were mainly based on escalations leading up to and especially on Tuesday night.

After dispersing Tuesday night, the group that ended up being arrested gathered at the El Cheapo in the county then the Sunoco gas station in the city where “the disruptive, disorderly conduct and threats toward law enforcement continued,” according to the police department.

The nine were taken into custody during three separate late-night vehicle stops after the 6 p.m. emergency curfew went into effect Wednesday.

The curfew was imposed in response to what city government and public safety leaders say is a threat by people from outside the “area and state who have engaged in or who threaten or appear ready to instigate or engage in unlawful or dangerous activity.”

Of the nine arrested, at least seven live in Sumter. One is from Iowa, and the juvenile’s information is withheld.

According to the police department, Brittany Valencia Martin, 32, of Rast Street, is being considered as the leader of the group. She is charged with five counts of threatening the life of a public official and with instigating, aiding or participating in a riot. She has also been charged with failure to stop for blue lights, trespass after notice, unlawful use of a horn and violation of city curfew.

Also charged are:

  • Eric Lee Kennedy, 35, also of Rast Street, is charged with trespass after notice and violation of city curfew;
  • Haywood Harris, 57, of West Bartlette Street, is charged with public disorderly conduct and violation of city curfew;
  • Tiffany Martin, 39, of Pack Road, is charged with public disorderly conduct and violation of city curfew;
  • Kathy Small, who is living homeless in Sumter, is charged with trespass after notice, violation of city curfew and open container;
  • Antwan Harris, 18, of East Sherwood Drive, is charged with disregard of a traffic control device, failure to stop for blue lights and contributing to the delinquency of a minor;
  • Quinzell Jeremiah Whitaker, 19, of Carrol Drive, is charged with fugitive from justice, simple possession of marijuana-first offense, violation of city curfew and providing false information to police;
  • Moshe Benson, 24, of Waterloo, Iowa, is charged with violation of city curfew, public disorderly conduct, open container, reckless driving and no vehicle tag; and
  • A 17-year-old from Sumter was charged with violation of city curfew and providing false information to police.

The adults were booked at the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office Detention Center. The 17-year-old was released to a guardian.

According to Tonyia McGirt, public information officer for the police department, more arrests are possible as officers continue to investigate.

The curfew remains in the city from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. daily until Monday morning, though the mayor has the authority to cancel it earlier.

Anyone with information is asked to call the Sumter Police Department at (803) 436-2700 or Crime Stoppers at 1-888-CRIME-SC.

Tips can also be submitted to Crime Stoppers by logging onto www.P3tips.com and clicking on the “Submit a New Tip” tab or by downloading the new P3 Tips app for Apple and Android devices.