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Protest In I-95 Express Lanes Near Dumfries Ends In 24 Arrests

Patch logo Patch 6/6/2020 Mark Hand
a group of people walking down a street: Dozens of people protesting the death of George Floyd marched in the HOV lanes of I-95 near Dumfries early Friday evening, blocking traffic. © Special to Patch Dozens of people protesting the death of George Floyd marched in the HOV lanes of I-95 near Dumfries early Friday evening, blocking traffic.

DUMFRIES, VA — A group of protesters was arrested early Friday evening after they gained access to Interstate 95 in the Dumfries area and then moved over to the express lanes where they blocked traffic, according to the Virginia State Police. The group was protesting the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and had attended a demonstration at the Dumfries Town Hall earlier in the evening.

At about 7 p.m. Friday, the Prince William County Police Department said it alerted the Virginia State Police about the group of demonstrators walking north in the right shoulder and right travel lane of I-95 in Prince William County. The group had gained access to the interstate via the Exit 152 at the Route 234 ramp. The group then crossed over to the HOV lanes in between the north and south lanes of I-95.

"As state troopers approached the group, several protesters began running across the travel lanes and into the woods," the Virginia State Police said Friday night in a statement. "State police did not pursue those individuals."

Twenty-four protesters, including four juveniles, were arrested. The four juveniles were released on a summons to a guardian, the police said.

Prince William County Police Department spokesman Jonathan Perok said the group formed in the commuter lot at Route 1 and Dumfries Road earlier in the afternoon. At about 4:30 p.m., the group started walking south on Route 1 to the Dumfries Town Hall for a 5 p.m. demonstration.

The protesters attended the event at Dumfries Town hall where officials, students and pastors spoke about the death of George Floyd and called for greater police accountability.

According to one protester, the Prince William County police allowed the group to walk down the ramp to I-95 and did not indicate to the group that they needed to leave. The Prince William County Police Department, which had been blocking traffic to allow the protest to proceed through Dumfries, blocked traffic on I-95 for the protesters and then instructed the protesters to turn around into the HOV lanes in the center, the protester said in a statement.

"We did so, and the police again blocked off traffic for us," the protester said.

"But as we walked back, trying to get home safely, the state police arrived," the protester said. "The last thing I saw or heard was people running. I was near the front of the group, and I received no indication from police that I needed to get off the road."

In response to the protester's statement, the Prince William County Police Department said in an email to Patch that it did not grant anyone permission to get onto or use the main lanes of I-95.

Perok said the police department had been monitoring the group since it left the commuter lot. At the end of the Dumfries demonstration, the group walked back north on Route 1. "At this point, the group walked into the roadway blocking all northbound lanes. We made reasonable accommodations following behind the group and conducted a rolling road closure for their safety and the safety of motorists," he said.

But as the group neared the commuter lot where the march had started, some of the protesters started walking onto the ramp for I-95 northbound. By the time the Prince William County officers realized this was occurring, some members of the group were already about to get onto the main I-95 lanes from the ramp, Perok said.

"At that point, our officers had to take a position ahead of them to offer a safety cushion for not only their safety, but for the safety of the unaware motorists traveling on I-95," he said. "To further complicate safety, a storm was actively producing heavy rain in the area."

But at no time was the group "directed or given permission by this agency to get onto the interstate," said Perok, who noted that most ramps have posted signs which indicate pedestrians are prohibited.

"As the group proceeded onto the interstate, the department acted out of an abundance of safety for the group and motorists, to slow traffic and block the lanes. State police were also notified as they have primary jurisdiction on the state's interstate system," he said.

According to the protester, when the Virginia State Police arrived threatening arrests, the protester and others ran across the other side of traffic into the woods. "I got away safely. Many others did not," the protester said.

According to the Virginia State Police, the group of about 75 marched north, stopping all travel on I-95 and then gained access to the HOV lanes.

State police said they gave multiple verbal commands to the protesters to move off to the left side of the interstate and out of traffic for their safety. The state police said they announced several times that the crowd was an unlawful assembly and risked being arrested. The crowd refused to comply with the multiple verbal commands, the Virginia State Police said.

The protester said that when Virginia State Police arrived, she did not hear any instructions from police that they needed to get off the road. "None of us did, frankly," she said. "If we had, we would have complied immediately."

State police made 43 charges that included unlawful assembly, obstructing free passage of others and obstruction of justice. All adults were taken into custody where they were processed at Manassas Adult Detention Center and Garfield Adult Detention Center in Prince William County.

The express lanes remained closed until all people were removed from the lanes at about 8:30 p.m., the police said.

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