Nashville Police Call Driver Who Struck Protesters a “Victim”

A driver struck several protesters in Nashville late last month -- and the authorities are rushing to protect him. Photo: Too far, Liz/Twitter
A driver struck several protesters in Nashville late last month -- and the authorities are rushing to protect him. Photo: Too far, Liz/Twitter

A 68-year-old man who ran his car through a group of protesters in Nashville not only won’t be charged, but is being treated by local law enforcement as though he were the victim of a crime, according to the Tennessean.

Late last month, people gathered at the corner of West End Avenue and Murphy Road in Nashville to speak out against Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration. As the protest was winding down, a man behind the wheel of an SUV “drove for a distance with protesters on the hood of his vehicle,” the Tennessean reports.

In the ensuing investigation, the word of the driver and his wife seemed to hold greater sway with police than the protesters who were struck or witnessed the event. The driver told police he was sitting at the intersection when protesters started jumping on his car and threatening him, and he drove into them out of fear.

Jack Willey, a member of the protest’s safety team, told the Tennessean he was struck by the driver while helping people in a crosswalk with the right of way. He criticized the investigation, saying “there were dozens of witnesses” who weren’t interviewed.

Matthew Hill, a representative or the rural Jonesborough area, wants people who run over protesters to be immune from civil penalties. Photo: Tennessee General Assembly
Matthew Hill, a representative of the rural Jonesborough area, wants people who run over protesters to be immune from civil penalties. Photo: Tennessee General Assembly

The police report published by the Tennessean refers to the driver as “the victim” throughout. It says “officers asked the victim to sit in the back of a police car and was relocated away from the incident for his safety.”

As outrageous as this may seem, it fits a pattern. In 2014, when a teenage girl protesting police brutality in Minneapolis was run over by a driver who careened into the crowd, local authorities declined to pursue criminal charges. They also initially referred to the driver, 40-year-old Jeffrey Rice, as the “victim.” He was eventually charged with only minor traffic offenses.

In practice, the American legal system is already incredibly permissive toward people who use a motor vehicle to violently assault protesters in a roadway.

Nevertheless, to add insult to injury, Tennessee state rep Matthew Hill introduced a bill last week that would shield drivers from civil suits when they run over protesters, if the driver was exercising “due care.” The bill was introduced on February 8 and has been forwarded to the State Senate judiciary committee. A similar bill was introduced last month in North Dakota.

Nora Kern, executive director of Walk Bike Nashville, said the measure is abhorrent.

“Given how many pedestrians have been killed in Nashville, it’s crazy to even suggest this sort of bill,” she said. “I’m hoping though this was filed more as some sort of sick statement and that it has no chance of moving forward.”

  • KJ Garner

    FYI – Nora Kern is executive director of Walk Bike Nashville.

  • com63
  • Walter Crunch

    Just remember, a cop views his car as his “partner”.

  • martqbdlve

    Was he driving on the sidewalk?

  • Bernard Finucane

    This is classic SDO thinking. Drivers are an inherently superior group, and pedestrians need to be kept in their place.

  • bobfuss

    “protesters started jumping on his car and threatening him”

    So you think that is normal, reasonable, ethical behavior? When did free speech include jumping on vehicles and threatening people?

    There are plenty of examples of drivers behaving badly, but a terrified old man who experiences a mob assaulting and threatening him and his wife is not close to being one of them.

  • bobfuss

    You know, call me old fashioned, but I think at some point you cease to be a “pedestrian” when you jump out into the road, onto a vehicle and threaten the occupants.

  • The only report of jumping on the car was from the driver, others reported assault victims getting carried on the hood of the weapon vehicle. Kinda like cyclists hit from behind “swerved in front” of the car that hit them and can’t refute the driver.

  • Witnesses at the scene reported the driver hit the protesters in the crosswalk and th only persons reporting the jump on the car are the occupants of the weapon vehicle.

  • Sounds like they need someone to pull a Spiro Bikopoulis on some members of the lege.

  • Bernard Finucane

    You sound desperate to find a strong argument.

  • neroden

    This is the sort of police corruption which leads to revolution.

  • bobfuss

    Bernard, since you are the one that made a personal criticism rather than a relevant point, I’d say that you’re the one sounding more desperate here.

    A “pedestrian” doesn’t normally run out into the highway, jump onto a vehicle and threaten its innocent occupants. I’d have done the exact same thing as this driver did, and fully expect to be supported by the law for doing so.

  • bobfuss

    I’m old enough to remember when a “protest” means assembling in a public square or park, and peacefully chanting and holding up signs.

    Now it seems to “protest” you have to mess with the lives of others, taking risks by trying to stop people, cars, trains and even airprots working for the rest of us.

    That is dangerous behavior, illegal behavior and there will inevitably be bad outcomes for some of them. Why mess with traffic?

  • bobfuss

    If different witnesses give different accounts then that is where cops use their judgement and experience to determine whose story is more plausible.

    The other witnesses there were probably other protesters, and so were themselves part of the problem. Who thought it was a good idea to protest on a highway?

  • Rain__or__Shine

    Yeah, you’re a regular Son of Liberty. Tell us more John Hancock.

  • bobfuss

    Just saying that if you set out to cause trouble, then trouble will probably find you.

    This is probably the least sympathetic attempt at anti-car propaganda I’ve seen in a good while.

  • Bernard Finucane

    Not at all, I did not criticize you, just your argument. Like the nuns taught me, hate the sin, not the sinner. I am convinced you can do better.

  • bobfuss

    Let me ask you this. If I disagree with you, and decide to express that by blocking your access to public space, and you then pull out a gun and shoot me, can I reasonably complain?

  • Bernard Finucane

    Fine with me, ask away.

  • bobfuss

    OK, thanks for permission to blow you away if you mess with me.

  • When someone is shot who do you place more creedence with? The guy holding a smoking gun, or the people with bullet holes?

  • Bernard Finucane

    ITG alert!

  • bobfuss

    Yes, when I want to deflect a losing argument, I also use an obscure acronym. works every time.

  • bobfuss

    I don’t place much trust in the friends of the guy who was shot, especially if they are all engaged in the same criminal or dangerous behavior. It’s not unusual for a criminal to be shot in the commission of a crime, and people have the right to use deadly force if they, their family or their property is under threat,

  • bobfuss

    Americans are too fat and lazy to revolt. They’d rather watch TV, eat pizza and drink Bud.

  • I don’t know, why did the guy that tried to kill me make a u-turn to get on my side of the street and then accelerate to ~60 MPH before hitting me? All I was doing was riding my bike home from my second shift job in the rain. Some people are just assholes and have a feeling of power when you give them a weapon of mass destruction like a car or truck.

  • rockerred

    Y’know, it’s our own damn fault.

    We won the Civil War. But we did not make it stick. We just wimped out and handed the whole place back to the Klan, not even ten years later. We gave them hell nearly a hundred years to put the system in place. Spose we were busy with the Model As and those detachable Arrow collars. And we were stupid enough to believe we’d stopped the lynchings when all we’d done was move em inside. And now it’s all coming back to bite us in the behind, with a whole lotta people and whole lotta states that mainly don’t buy in, never did.

    Nothing personal. Fine people! Family all over. I just really don’t wanna share a country with them anymore.

  • bobfuss

    Without knowing any more than what you told me, I’d say there is one clear difference. The guy who hit you did not do so deliberately. He was negligent, stupid and reckless, for sure, but it was still an accidental impact. He had no motive to hit you.

    Whereas the guy in this case deliberately ran over the “mob”, because he feared for his life.

    I can’t see a 68 year old man running someone over deliberately for no good reason. I could see him being at fault for accidentally hitting someone.

  • Bernard Finucane

    Yeah, an internet tough guy thinks threatening people with physical violence is “winning an argument”.

  • bobfuss

    Since the article is about people using force then a discussion of when it’s appropriate to use force seems reasonable. And there is a reasonable expectation that someone will use force if you entrap them and threaten them.

  • What part of making a U-turn to get on my side of the street made you think it was not a deliberate act?

  • bobfuss

    What motive would that driver have had to do that?

  • He wanted to kill me for riding a bicycle. And obviously he was crazy.

  • It’s not he said vs. she said, it’s he said, vs. a dozen others who the police didn’t even bother to interview. If you cannot see the bias here, then I submit you’re intentionally looking away.

  • bobfuss

    I can see bias there. If a group of people go on a protest together, they are all going to stick up for each other, and groupthink will kick in, perceiving things as they want them to appear, not necessarily as they are.

    Now, if you are saying there were neutral witnesses there, that’s another matter.

  • bobfuss

    OK, he may have been crazy, but he must have had some reason for deciding that you deserved execution. Was it a road rage thing? What had you done to annoy him? Those are presumably the question a jury would want to know the answers to.

  • We’ll never know for sure. He was driving a city vehicle when he hit me, so police knew who he was but had to build a case against him before they could arrest him, but he died in a drunk driving wreck before he could be arrested.

    I can say that twice, going on the other side of the road and just before he hit me, he yelled “Get off the F**king road!” It was the last thing I remembered before I woke up when they were trying to remove my body from the road. I was believed to have died because of the violence of the wreck, the distance I flew through the air, and the fact my bike ended up 1/4 mile from the wreck site.

  • So 100 witnesses are void and not even worth interviewing because their biased by happening to be at the same protest (entirely unrelated to issues of traffic safety mind you), but the driver, who actually has something to lose is entirely neutral and is the only voice worth listening too?

    Look, your bias is becoming very clear. Even if you think the police should give somewhat less weight to the protestors opinions than they would a true third party witness, that doesn’t excuse not interviewing them, and it certainly doesn’t excuse giving full weight to the driver’s story.

    If you refuse to see this bias, well, clearly you’re holding it as well.

  • bobfuss

    Let me pit it this way. If your witnesses are you mom, your dad, your brother, your wife, your best friend and some guy you play in a band with, chances are I will discount much of that.

    As for “bias”, why are you so unwilling to believe a 68 year old driver and his wife, with no motive to do harm?

  • bobfuss

    OK, well given the DUI that doesn’t look good for him.

    You can sue someone’s estate, but I’m sure you know that.

  • Two things against that, I still don’t know his name, and the statute of limitations expired in 2005.

  • You’re just turning it around. The witnesses aren’t family members of the individual, in fact, nobody even knows, they weren’t even interviewed.

    Honestly, I could believe either case, what I don’t believe is that you, the police, and half the people out there don’t even see a reason to interview witnesses. You are so blinded by your own bias.

  • bobfuss

    The witnesses were fellow protesters i.e. people about whom it can be reasonable inferred are favorable to the protesters who were hit. At least, as a juror, that would be my view.

  • So you infer that they’re biased and you won’t even interview them, but the driver, now he’s unbiased, and you bother to interview him.

    Honestly, do you even hear yourself?

  • bobfuss

    If 4 bank robbers were all caught red-handed, and they all testified that the others were innocent, would you believe them?

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