THP: Protester arrested for tossing ‘unknown liquid believed to be coffee’ at Speaker Casada

State-Capitol

Tennessee Highway Patrol troopers arrested and charged two protesters after an argument broke out near the Nathan Bedford Forrest bust at the Tennessee State Capitol on Thursday. 

There have been almost weekly protests there led by a group that wants the controversial Confederate general’s statue removed from the state house. 

According to THP officials, troopers were stationed at the capitol for a planned protest when they observed Justin Bautista-Jones attempting to go around rope barriers and enter the chamber. 

Officials believe Bautista-Jones, a student at Vanderbilt Divinity School, was doing this in order to make contact with Speaker Glen Casada. 

The House Sergeant-At-Arms advised the group that the chambers were closed for a press event.

When Casada exited the chamber to get on an elevator, officials say the group — and more specifically Bautista-Jones — allegedly attempted to push passed troopers and enter the elevator. 

When he was denied entry, Bautista-Jones allegedly began yelling at Speaker Casada, calling him a racist, and then threw a coffee cup “with an unknown liquid believed to be coffee” at Speaker Casada.

State Representative Debra Moody was also hit by the liquid, officials say. 

Bautista-Jones was arrested by Trooper Linda Lee for disorderly conduct and two counts of simple assault. 

According to THP, another protester that was allegedly trying to push past troopers named started yelling and threatening Trooper Lee while Bautista-Jones was being placed under arrest. The woman, Jeneisha Harris, was also arrested for disorderly conduct. 

Officials say Bautista-Jones and Harris were escorted to another room in the Capitol for processing before they were transported to a mobile banking office for the Davidson Co. Sheriff’s Office.

Both suspects appeared before a magistrate and have been formally charged. 

The arrest came after tensions were already high on the House floor earlier in the morning.

Republicans and Democrats voiced differences Thursday over how protestors were handled at a Tuesday committee hearing chaired by Rep. David Byrd.

Three women last year accused Byrd of sexually assaulting them during the 1980s when they were teens and he was their coach on a school team.    

Byrd overwhelmingly won re-election this past November.

“I just made it clear that citizens are no longer going to be dragged out of committees as they were earlier this week and it’s not going to be tolerated,” said Nashville Democrat Bo Mitchell.

“Once they started to disrupt the process, that’s when it becomes a real challenge because there are safety concerns not just for legislators, but staff and other members of the public,” countered East Tennessee Republican Matthew Hill.

The protests have grown since Speaker Casada named Byrd to chair a subcommittee.

The speaker responded this way Thursday when asked about the cause of the protests.

“Protest is good, but you must do it in an orderly manner,” the speaker told a gathering of reporters. “Your First Amendment rights end at your nose.”

Republican lawmakers in the house ended the news conference by saying they can’t wait for Monday and the State of the State from new Governor Bill Lee to talk about other issues again. 

This is a developing story. Stay with News 2 for updates. 

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