Prepare to get mad.
Or maybe livid is a better word.
Just a day after a widely circulated open letter called on the Orange County Sheriff’s Department to charge a truck driver who used his vehicle as a weapon to threaten a cyclist, the department recommended that charges be filed.
Against the victim.
According to the LA Times, Bryan Larsen was riding his bike on Pacific Coast Highway in Dana Point on May 31st when he captured video of a truck driver attempting to run him off the road before the passenger — who turned out to be the driver’s wife — hits him with a thrown Gatorade bottle; they then try to smoke him out as they took off.
Maybe she thought he looked thirsty.
Larsen was originally told that no charges could be filed because sheriff’s deputies did not actually witness the assault themselves.
Which is not true, of course.
Police are required to witness an event in order to file a traffic violation or misdemeanor charge; however, there’s no such requirement for felony charges. And using a large truck to intimidate a vulnerable road user should certainly qualify.
I’ve also been told by members of other departments that video footage can be used as evidence, as well as eye witness testimony. At the time, Larsen was riding with another cyclist who could verify everything seen on the video.
After the video went viral and was picked up by local news stations, the sheriff’s department reconsidered and conducted an investigation. Though based on the results, not much of one.
Even though the driver reportedly used his massive truck as a weapon to threaten the rider and attempt to force him off the road, they declined to charge him with anything. At all.
Instead, the Orange County Register reports they recommended that the OC District Attorney file an assault and battery charge against the driver’s wife.
And that charges be filed against the victim for apparently inciting the attack through his use of obscene language directed at the couple.
Charges are also being recommended against the bicyclist, he said, who is suspected of using “offensive words in public, likely to provoke a violent reaction.” Officials suspect the cyclist made “rude, disparaging comments” before the incident was recorded on his cellphone, (Lt. Jeff) Hallock said.
This, despite the fact the US Supreme Court has repeatedly held that offensive language and gestures are protected as free speech under the 1st Amendment. And even though Hallock makes it clear investigators are only assuming that Larson said something so offensive as to justify a violent attack with a deadly weapon.
As if anything could.
Would they still feel the driver was justified if he had pulled out a gun and started shooting at the cyclist? Legally, there’s no difference; only the choice of weapon used.
And never mind what actually precipitated the event. Unless Larsen suffers from a rare form of Tourette’s Syndrome or mental illness that forced him to swear without any provocation, he was clearly responding to something the driver had done before the camera started recording.
What, we may never know, since the threat of criminal charges will now force him to remain silent. Which is probably the real intent.
Legally, there’s no valid case against him. So the question becomes, why is the OCSD trying so hard to intimidate the victim of a violent crime — while letting the primary perpetrator off scott-free?
And what does it say to every other bike rider south of the Orange Curtain when even video evidence isn’t good enough to get the authorities to give a damn about our safety — let alone threaten us for reporting it?
Sheriff Sandra Hutchens and her department are sending a clear message to everyone who travels by two wheels that we remain second-class citizens in her jurisdiction.
And if something bad happens on her watch, just keep your mouth shut about it.