COLUMBIA, Mo. (KMIZ)
The Boone County Prosecutor's Office won't charge either of the drivers whose vehicles collided with people protesting in a downtown Columbia intersection last year.
Assistant prosecutor David Hansen laid out his reasoning in an 11-page letter to Columbia police Chief Geoff Jones on Tuesday. Hansen said he did not believe the evidence proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the drivers knowingly hurt the two people hit on June 1 in two different incidents at Providence Road and Broadway.
Dozens of people gathered in the streets the night of June 1 to protest the death of George Floyd. The first person, a 25-year-old woman, was hit by a driver around 8:15 p.m., suffering a broken ankle. A 17-year-old driver then hit another woman around 8:50 p.m. when a crowd gathered in front of his car while stopped at the intersection. ABC 17 News captured the moment during a live video stream as the driver went through the crowd and hit a woman standing in front of the car.
Hansen said he believed neither incident warranted charges for the drivers, such as assault or leaving the scene of an accident.
"The drivers' statements, the statements of others, and the video demonstrate that Driver 1 and Driver 2, along with other drivers at the intersection at the time, were trying to lawfully proceed through the intersection," Hansen said.
Hansen said he would also not file charges against protesters who may have committed a crime while in the street.
"Some drivers made ill-advised decision that evening when they encountered people in and near the intersection," Hansen said. "People who blocked streets and approached motor vehicles at the intersection also made ill-advised decisions to confront drivers who were lawfully traveling on the roadway. Drivers were where they had a lawful right to be, and people blocking traffic in the intersection were not. It is not in the interest of justice to proceed with criminal charges against the drivers or protestors as a result of the incidents at the intersection that evening."
Hansen said the first driver was traveling south on Providence when the 25-year-old woman "walked to the middle of the intersection" and "jumped on (the driver)'s hood" as he went through. Hansen wrote that the driver stopped then accelerated, causing the woman to fall off. The driver ran over her legs as he left. The woman allegedly told officers in the hospital that "she stepped in front of the vehicle and fell onto the hood of the car" when she noticed it driving past the protesters.
Another driver who saw that crash allegedly told police that he saw the woman "'jump in front'" of the vehicle as it tried to go through the intersection. The witness described the scene as "very scary," according to Hansen, because people were cursing at him as he tried to turn right onto Providence from Broadway.
"Based on the circumstances and evidence, the state could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Driver 1's actions constituted a gross deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable person would exercise in that situation," Hansen wrote.
The driver in the second incident told police he did not even know he hit someone. Hansen wrote that the driver told police protestors put a sign over his car windshield as he approached the intersection from Broadway. ABC 17 News saw people throw water at the driver and hit his car with an orange construction cone. The woman who was hit said she told the driver to turn around, "and when he refused, she jumped in front of the vehicle and told him to turn around," Hansen said.
The second driver revved his engine before driving through the crowd and further east onto Broadway. Hansen said that could either be viewed as the driver threatening the crowd or warning them.
"The latter view is supported by the fact that someone covered the car's windshield, then two men angrily struck his driver's door, and others gathered near his car and were hitting it," Hansen said.
Hansen said his decision in this case does not mean he would never charge a driver that hit a protester in a future case.
The prosecutor's office is pursuing a case against a man accused of setting fires at the same intersection the night before the crashes. Jeffrey Cotton is charged with unlawful use of a weapon and is set to be back in court on June 14.