JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — UPDATE: Suspect arrested, charged after reportedly driving van into Republican tent in Walmart parking lot
The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office is investigating after witnesses said a van purposefully drove into a tent belonging to the Republican Party of Duval County Saturday at the Walmart in Sandalwood.
JSO was called to the scene at 11900 Atlantic Blvd at the Kernan Village shopping center just before 4 p.m., police said. Witnesses told police that the driver, described as a man in his early 20s with thin brown hair, pulled up to the tent where volunteers for the Republican Party were registering people to vote. He then drove through the tent and over their tables and chairs. No volunteers were hurt, according to JSO.
"I thought he was going to slow down, but he didn't and he gunned his engine and headed straight," a volunteer with the Republican Party of Duval County who said she was narrowly missed by the car said.
GOP volunteers said this incident further divides the country.
"When did violence become the answer? Just because I don’t agree with you? That’s not America," volunteer Gerri Woodham said.
"We have a right to disagree. We don’t have to agree. That’s what America is about, but we should have peaceful discourse," Woodham said.
The driver then stopped, took a video with his cell phone and drove off, JSO said. The van is described as an older '80s model brown Chevy with a yellow stripe down the bottom.
JSO said intelligence detectives were called to the scene, though it is unsure if the crash was politically motivated.
“I don’t know if he was just upset about something else or if it’s politically motivated," Lieutenant Larry Gayle with JSO said.
"We’re obviously going to follow that up and we take that very seriously. Anybody who interrupts a political process in this country needs to be taken very seriously," Gayle said.
President Donald Trump tweeted about the incident saying, "Law Enforcement has been notified. Be careful tough guys who you play with!"
Marco Rubio also responded, saying he was thankful no one was hurt.
“We are outraged by this senseless act of violence toward our great volunteers,” Duval GOP Chairman Dean Black said. “The Republican Party of Duval County will not be intimidated by these cowards and we will not be silenced. I call on every Republican in our great city to stand up, get involved and show these radicals that we will not be intimidated from exercising our Constitutional rights.”
Officers said no one has seen the video reportedly taken on the man's phone. JSO said detectives have requested video from nearby businesses as part of the investigation.
The Duval County Democratic Party also responded about the incident saying. "The Duval County Democratic Party condemns this cowardly act of violence. No one's life should be placed in danger for exercising their first amendment rights," the statement read.
The incident is being investigated as aggravated assault and criminal mischief.
If you have any information about this incident, call JSO at 904-630-0500 or call Crime Stoppers at 1-866-845-TIPS.