Mayor Hewes: ‘Orchestrated’ protest inside City Hall forced employees to barricade themselves in offices

Protests led to confrontations in downtown Gulfport on Thursday.
Published: Feb. 2, 2023 at 7:56 PM CST
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GULFPORT, Miss. (WLOX) - Protests led to confrontations in downtown Gulfport on Thursday.

After months of protests outside Gulfport’s public safety complex without interactions between protesters and police, heated exchanges erupted on 15th Street.

“They started making their way into City Hall to the point that our employees started barricading themselves in and they were very concerned,” Mayor Billy Hewes said. “Some folks in this crowd were standing on tables, yelling at our employees directly, going through items on desks and it was very disconcerting.”

Thursday’s protest by supporters of Jaheim McMillan spilled into Gulfport City Hall, and what happened at 3:03 p.m. was captured by City Hall security camera footage shared by Gulfport’s administration.

Roughly two dozen protesters walked up to and eventually past City Hall’s front desk. They demanded to talk with Mayor Billy Hewes.

“There was a lot of noise, a lot of yelling, a lot of bull horns and it was very, very loud,” he said.

At one point, you see most of them by the mayor’s office door, many pointing cell phones in his direction.

Protesters were inside Gulfport City Hall for 10 tension-filled minutes, according to city leaders. There are a few moments when some of the protesters walk down a hall toward a City Hall conference room and the Chief Administrative Officer’s wing. One protester who went that way is seen dragging a cardboard storage box that contained American flags into the front lobby.

Until that point, the mayor said police did what they’ve done at every other rally since October when Jaheim died from an officer’s bullet. They left the protesters alone.

However, once the protest relocated, Gulfport police responded, and the tensions inside and outside City Hall escalated. One officer had a shield. Others tried to maintain peace. Mayor Billy Hewes said during the frenetic moments on 15th Street, protesters assaulted an officer.

“One of our officers was assaulted with a bull horn outside,” said Chief Adam Cooper. “Upon making an arrest we were being rushed by the crowd and the individual was taken into custody.”

That’s when the mayor said he had enough.

“We have folks do protests from time to time and that’s fine, but when you start to have an assault on a space that is usually held for work and meetings, it’s not unlike the breach that happened at the Capitol with folks going in and not only invading space but getting physical with people,” he said.

Protesters have video posted on social media showing a Gulfport officer pointing a weapon at members of their group. The mayor and the police chief both told us that weapon was loaded with rubber bullets, and it was never fired.

“I believe this was an orchestrated event to create sensation and to raise the noise level. It’s unfortunate that it happened at the people at City Hall,” Hewes said.

Hewes said he believes the footage of the fatal shooting at the center of the protests will be released “by the end of this month.”

“We’re expecting it should be concluded in the next few weeks,” he said.

Chief Cooper added the suspect who was arrested will be charged with felony assault on a police officer.

Here's unedited video captured inside Gulfport City Hall around 3 p.m. Feb. 2 showing protestors enter the building.

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