No Criminal Assault Charges to be Brought Against Driver Caught on Camera Striking Cyclist

By now, many of you have seen the video of a cyclist being intentionally struck by a pickup truck in DC.  WABA shared this video in order to highlight the danger of assault that cyclists face on the District’s roadways and to push for a law creating an improved civil cause of action to allow assaulted and harassed cyclists to seek justice.

In response to this bill (now introduced in the DC Council as the “Assault of Bicyclists Prevention Act of 2011″) some skeptics have stated that the law is unnecessary because this sort of behavior is already a crime, and that the criminal system will ensure proper punishment of the driver.

Try telling that to the cyclist who shared that video with us.

Despite having clear video evidence documenting the assault–including the threatening language prior to the attack, an independent witness who stated that the collision with the cyclist was intentional, and excellent police work by MPD in locating the driver of the vehicle and completing the necessary reports, no assault charges will be brought.

The authorities saw the video.  That was their answer.

If criminal assault charges are not pursued in a case like this one, where the entire incident is videotaped, corroborated, and well investigated, it is difficult to imagine a time when these criminal laws would be used to provide justice after a bicyclist is assaulted.

To those who say that current criminal laws provide the needed protection: you are incorrect.  This decision  makes that abundantly clear.

Please join us in working for the prompt passage of the Assault of Bicyclists Prevention Act of 2011 to provide cyclists with a means of redress.  If you have a story of being assaulted or harassed on the roadway, please share it with us here. To join the list of supporters of this law and receive updates as it progresses, please sign up here.

We look forward to the opportunity to testify in support of this bill and hope that the Committee on the Judiciary–chaired by Councilmember Mendelson–will take the bill seriously and hold a hearing on the law very soon.

(***Note that the Committee on the Judiciary is holding a hearing on enforcement practices related to bicyclists and pedestrians on November 2nd.  This is also an important hearing, but it is separate in nature.  The Committee must also hold a hearing on the Assault of Bicyclists Prevention Act in order for it to be voted on by the full Council and possibly go become law.)

27 comments
Jack
Jack

Well, there is the fact that the driver SLOWLY crept back into the lane, and that there was a clear lane that the cyclist could have been in (and SHOULD have been in except when passing the parked cars), and that the cyclist also made no attempt to avoid the truck. Simply put, they would have lost the case.

crusher
crusher

This is more than assault, which is "threat" this is battery, which is contact. The truck driver assaulted the biker verbally, then commited battery upon the cyclist by striking him. These actions are on video tape, there was corroboration from a witness who said it was intentional. The truck driver had every opportunity to avoid a collision by changing lanes, but did not do so. What more is necessary for a criminal case?

busy
busy

Just a question here .... don't try this at home .... I wonder (just wonder, now, mind you); Has anyone undertaken to insure that the pickup truck driver's automobile insurance provider has seen a copy of this video??

Yes it happened, its true.
Yes it happened, its true.

For the pickup truck to be abreast of the bicyclist and in the bicyclist's lane at all is an unacceptable infraction. The bicycle is a vehicle and is entitled to the entire width of the lane to itself. I reccomend that bicyclists ride in the center of their lane or 2/3 of the way to the left of their lane; taking their right to the command of their lane. Here is why. 1) It puts the bicyle directly in front of the driver of cars behind them. 2) It gives the cyclist the most roadway in case of the need to serve right or left. 3) It allows cross traffic the most visibility of the cyclist. 4) It keeps the cycle away from cars and car doors alongside the roadway. Please allow me to recount a true adventure of my own that points this out. I was riding a bicyle as fast as I could along a public roadway. I was crossing a steel-superstructure bridge with two lanes, one lane each way. A car was coming from the other way and a car was approaching me from behind. I tried to be nice to the car behind me and got as close to the right hand side of my lane as I could to let the car pass. My bicycle's pedal caught on a piece of rebar that was sticking out of the side of the bridge. My bike stopped, nid a nose stand on its front wheel, twisted 90 degrees and came down across the roadway perpendicular to my lane, right in front of the car. The car slammed on its brakes and stopped a few feet from myself and my bike that were laying crosswise in front of the car. The bicycle was damaged. I picked it up and dragged it slowly off the bridge and then off to the side of the road. BUT that is the last time I will ever give up part of MY lane to a car. I ride in the center of MY lane as is my right.

Robert
Robert

I cycle to work every day, so I am very aware of the unsafe way that many DC drivers act around cyclists. But frankly, I'm with the authorities here. There is nothing in this video which proves an assault. The video doesn't even show evidence that that the truck and bike made contact. Yelling at a cyclist is not a crime or a tort. If the cyclist has more evidence then he should hire an attorney and sue for battery (not assault; battery is offensive contact, assault is just an attempted battery). But the truck driver is going to claim that the cyclist was negligent by being too far to the left and filming instead of paying full attention to the road. If the cyclist can prove intent, he will get battery. If he can't prove intent (which is difficult to do), then must prove that his own negligence did not contribute to the injury. In a DC negligence action, if the victim is even 1% at fault for the injury, he will lose.

John
John

Another law, which also won't be enforced, won't make the situation any better. If the police aren't willing to prosecute a criminal case against the driver, then the other choice is to find a lawyer and file a civil suit.

Helen
Helen

@Mike According to http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/assault, Here's what is meant by "assault": At Common Law, an intentional act by one person that creates an apprehension in another of an imminent harmful or offensive contact. ------------------------------------------------------------------- The evidence shows malicious intent and credible threat of physical harm. Even if the bicyclist had been able to swerve or otherwise mitigate the attack and maintain balance, it's still assault. Most experienced urban cyclists are used to stressed drivers, the too-close pass or simple verbal abuse, but the evidence here suggests an attack well beyond those situations. No cyclist should have to endure it.

Shane Farthing
Shane Farthing

@kang Absolutely, but because the victim was not severely injured the potential damages are not high enough for an attorney to bring the civil case. That is what the proposed law would change. It will not change the criminal situation--which is egregious here given the evidence--but it will make the civil route available to this cyclist, and to those who won't have this sort of evidence to compel criminal prosecution in the future. @oboe: The question of democratic acountability of the US Attorney is quite relevant, but it's unlikely that WABA can bring that result in the near-term. So we are pushing this law to partly fill this gap in criminal enforcement with an accessible civil means of redress until the larger problem can be solved. We are also pushing for criminal prosecution in this case, but will continue to respect the privacy of the victim by not publicly releasing non-public details of his case that have been shared with us unless/until he chooses to do so.

John
John

Thus we see a marginalized, tiny minority seeking specific protections... as a "defined class," ... from abuse by an entrenched, powerful majority. Additionally, the majority pays the taxes that provide the roadways used by the minority, which pays no taxes. The minority member offended the obviously-arrogant majority member by infringing into the majority-member's space. I watched the tape, and I thought the minority member's behavior was reasonable, though not at all considerate of the majority-member's rights to the roadway. I have 50 years of bicycling under my belt, and have been abused only once by a motorist... a laughing, malicious young white male who deliberately tried to splash mud on me inside a city park, using his shiny pickup truck. The only thing I did to provoke this was to simply be in the wrong place at the wrong time... I was on a small bypass bridge along a depression in the vehicular roadway. Otherwise, I try to think of the other guy, as well as myself... sort of the way one of the two Great Commandments instructs us. Accordingly, I encourage polite consideration of all those pig-headed drivers of showy pickup trucks out there, until some sort of "bicyclists' civil rights act" is passed... maybe in the next century. Yess'r boss, I do. Disclosure: I am a gray-haired white male

Lydia
Lydia

Let the media have at it!

kang
kang

If no criminal charges are brought against the driver, at least civil charges should be filed... just letting him get away like that?!?

Mike
Mike

I commute to work from Brooklyn (NY) to Manhattan everyday. I have to say, when I saw the title of this post about vehicular assault, I was expecting something different. I don't know, maybe I'm just used to the tight confines of the busy streets and avenues here. I would definitely call this reckless driving and/or leaving the scene of an accident, but vehicular assault? I think that's inconclusive. Look at the lane markers, the driver didn't swerve into the cyclist's path of travel after passing him. He was straddling the dotted line and continued to while and after passing the cyclist. I have drivers swerve or pull out of intersections in front of me on a weekly basis and I leave myself enough space to adjust. That said, I do hope that the cyclist will rip this guy's f%&king lungs out in civil court. Anyway, this is just one cyclist's opinion, so flame on, everyone.

Ellen
Ellen

This is definitely an appalling incident. I agree that we need to do more to improve public perception of cyclists' rights, safety, etc. I ride often and commute to work on my bike. I am about to make what I'm sure will be a VERY unpopular statement and it in no way excuses the assault on this cyclist, so please don't think that's what I'm saying - however, one thing we as cyclists also need to do is to promote safe riding. I know most of us are out there being careful, but I think we also all know that there is some crazy riding going on out there. And I'm not talking about sliding through a stop when you know it's clear - I'm talking about cutting in front of moving vehicles, riding rapidly around and near pedestrians, running red lights and arrows when it's clearly a high risk move, etc., etc. The more of us out there doing the right thing, riding defensively, promoting WABA's efforts, etc. the more we're going to get the respect we need. In addition, I think we should promote the kind of legislation seen in Amsterdam and other European cities where the burden is on the driver to ensure the safety of pedistrians and cyclists. They are after all the ones with the 2 ton vehicle.

Xtina
Xtina

"The authorities saw the video. That was their answer." What precisely was their answer? I don't understand the way this is explained.

Helen
Helen

While pushing for a new law is nice, it's an inadequate response to this incident. I want to know exactly who is responsible for the decision not to prosecute, and on what grounds. If that pickup truck had swerved into a pedestrian, I can't imagine the driver getting away with it (although this case also is hard to imagine). While a new law may make it possible (although still difficult) for a cyclist to find redress, it is not going to PREVENT cyclist harassment any more than D.C.'s door-zone law (holding a driver responsible for dooring a cyclist) makes riding in the door zone safe. The needed change must happen in the greater public's perception of cyclist rights. We need to take a lesson from the civil rights movement (women's, minorities, handicapped - take your pick). If we cannot mobilize enough outrage to call a demonstration, we may as well settle for being road kill.

Jack Cochrane
Jack Cochrane

Take it straight to the media. They'll love it... it has videotape, and it's outrageous. An interesting story for them.

DaveS
DaveS

While I believe the "Assault of Bicyclists Prevention Act of 2011" is probably a good thing, clearly the systemic problem isn't a dearth of laws. What I've heard lately, on the street, from officers of the MPD, USCP, USPP, and USSS, is that the courts don't want to see these cases, and that it's not worth the officer's and victim's time to try to get them in front of a judge when the strongest outcome would be a minor fine and the most likely outcome is dismissal. If we get the "Assault of Bicyclists Prevention Law" passed, what will differentiate it from all the other laws that are too much hassle to actually enforce and prosecute?

oboe
oboe

@Shane, The problem is that when the law offers no justice, vigilantism is the result. I agree that we need to hold the council's feet to the fire, but the larger problem is the fact that there's zero accountability to DC residents when it comes to the US Attorney's office. On the happy occasions when MPD catches criminals, the USAO releases them without bothering to charge them. Frankly, we need to petition Congress to set up a DC equivalent of a states' attorney.

Mike
Mike

Systematic problems are never fixed as long as individuals know they can get around the system. Ridiculous.

Don
Don

And what was the truck driver's excuse once MPD caught up with him? "Oh, I was just kidding around..."??? It's bad enough that drivers are distracted as they whiz by our hips at warp speed, but this was clearly a deliberate act. In the legal profession, we call it premeditation - thought of beforehand for any length of time, however short. This driver obviously had an agenda and a purpose to his actions. Fortunately, he didn't end up killing anyone. But if he had, would the DC prosecutor's office have just brushed it off as they did here? Maybe.

VA Biker
VA Biker

Perhaps a boycott of Bike DC and other events that bring cyclists to DC is in order. If DC won't laws and continue to put cyclists in harm's way, we shouldn't spend our money there. And what about the continuing robberies on the bike trails? I have always encouraged visiting our-of-state friends to ride in DC, but if that puts them in danger, they're better of sticking to VA and MD.

Kiry
Kiry

It sounds like cyclists need to be prepared to defend themselves. Handguns? Rocks? What are our options?

Julie Starling
Julie Starling

Yes, it is assault. It needs to be prosecuted. This driver needs to be taken off the road. Who can we write? Who can we appeal?

Leslie W
Leslie W

I might feel better if I could also express my outrage, disappointment and sense of injustice over the decision of the commission. Would can I call or write?

Lydia
Lydia

Who do I write to to express outrage at the decision not to press charges????? Name and address, please.

Shane Farthing
Shane Farthing

John, thanks for your input, but please take a moment to read the proposed law before disparaging it. It is not a new criminal infraction. It provides improved access to the civil courts for assaulted cyclists--especially those like the victim in the video who are unable to find an attorney to represent them in civil court.

Shane Farthing
Shane Farthing

Everyone, let's not put ourselves in a worse position by supporting additional violence on blogs (or boycotting cycling events that benefit the region and WABA's efforts). The cyclist who was assaulted has asked that we not focus on the individuals in his case and instead address the systemic problem. So while we push further with those who declined prosecution in this case, channel some energy into contacting DC Councilmember Mendelson to hold a hearing on the law as soon as possible.

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