FBI detainee escapes custody, flees into crowd of protesters who try to help her

A woman fled from FBI custody and into a crowd of protesters Saturday afternoon near the downtown San Diego Central Jail, sparking a tense standoff between the demonstrators and plain-clothes federal agents, according to the FBI and videos of the incident.

According to the FBI, county sheriff’s deputies arrested the woman Saturday and turned her over to the agents based on a federal warrant from a 2019 case involving drug conspiracy and gang allegations.

As the agents were stopped outside a federal jail on West C Street, the woman — who was shacked at her wrists — escaped from the backseat of the small SUV and ran across Front Street, where protesters were calling for the release of Denzel Draughn, an activist who’s been jailed since San Diego police arrested him following an Aug. 28 protest.

Special Agent Davene Butler, a spokeswoman for the FBI’s San Diego field office, said the crowd surrounded the agents after they chased the woman into the crowd and caught her.

“Individuals began to actively interfere with the agents’ lawful authority to take the woman into custody by pulling at the agents and the woman,” Butler said in a news release.  

Videos posted on social media show the woman pleading for help as she runs from the SUV, shortly before the agents realize she has escaped and give chase. “Help her!” some protesters scream.

After the agents caught her in front of the nearby fire station, the woman screamed as the agents tried to move her through the crowd and the protesters began grabbing at them, videos showed.

One protester can be heard yelling, “Watch out, he’s got a gun!” as one of the agents is recorded gripping the pistol that’s tucked into the waist of his jeans. Other protesters film him and shout for him to let go of the gun.

Videos also show the shackled woman convulsing on the ground as protesters shout that a medic is needed.

“During the incident, the woman appeared to become distressed and an individual began to render aid,” Butler’s statement read. “The crowd then encircled the woman and physically blocked the agents’ access to take custody of the woman or otherwise assist her.”

In the videos, protesters demand the “name and badge number” of each agent, and social media posts claim the federal agents never identified themselves as such. It’s unclear in the videos if the agents identified themselves.

Videos show the protesters held hands to form a circle around the woman as at least three people, including one identifying as a medic, knelt down around her. As protesters continue shouting at the agents, they walk away.

The caption of one video posted on Instagram read in part: “This is how you perform a de-arrest!”

Butler said that “based on the size of the crowd and their response to the two law enforcement agents, the agents returned to their vehicle in order to deescalate the situation and request additional assistance.”

According to Butler, the agents remained at the scene and at some later point “coordinated the transport of the woman to a local hospital for further evaluation.

Butler said the FBI “has opened an investigation into the matter.”


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