WATCH: A second video submitted to the WPD clearly shows the man’s bike getting hit by the Land Rover. In the first video released by the department on Thursday, the collision is not as clear. WPD chose not to release the above video.
WILMINGTON — Prior to pressing charges against a man whose bike was hit by the driver of a Land Rover during a protest march, the charging officer consulted with the district attorney’s office. According to a man who filmed the incident and filed the police report, the officer had initially sought to press charges against the driver.
As they have done often since protests in Wilmington began in earnest in late May, some protestors and organizers are in the habit of blocking traffic at crosswalks and side streets to allow marchers to pass safely along downtown sidewalks.
Such was the case on the Thursday evening of July 2, when a man driving a Land Rover didn’t wait for marchers to pass, instead driving onto Market Street from the city’s parking garage behind Slice of Life Pizzeria, hitting a protestor’s bike in the process. The incident was partially captured on a video released by the Wilmington Police Department (WPD), but can be seen more clearly on a second video; while this video was submitted to the WPD, the department did not release it to the public (however, you can watch it at the top of this article).
Protestor Joey Bye filmed the incident with his phone, then talked to nearby Wilmington police officers and filed an incident report. Earlier this week, he said, an officer in charge of the department’s hit-and-run investigations called him to discuss the case.
Protestor: Charges initially considered for driver
According to Bye, Officer Claude Crumpler told him he was confident charges could be brought against the driver, based on the evidence collected. Crumpler had received two videos, one shot by Bye and another shot by a different protestor, clearly showing ‘wrongdoing’ on the part of the driver, Bye said he was told. He said that Crumpler was also critical of the officer who initially took the report from Bye, saying he had “failed to complete the case report” the night of the incident.
“It ended up on his desk and he noticed it hadn’t been finished, so he reached out to me wanting to take over the case and get the rest of the information,” Bye recalled.
Crumpler referred to the man with the bike, Jon Robertie, as the ‘victim’ in the case, according to Bye.
So when the WPD announced charges against Robertie on Thursday — and not against the driver who hit Robertie’s bike — Bye was taken aback. One of the charges also surprised him: failure to register a bicycle within city limits.
Who even knew such a rule existed? Bye wondered.
He said the real shocker came after he spoke with Robertie, who had told him that District Attorney Ben David’s Office advised the WPD on the case before the charges were announced. (Robertie did not return Port City Daily messages requesting comment.)
“Apparently the district attorney had stepped in and essentially flipped the charges,” Bye said.
In North Carolina, a district attorney’s office only acts as a consultant to local law enforcement agencies and does not make charging decisions. However, the strong influence of the DA’s office in the decision on whether or not to press charges is well established.
Late Friday morning, WPD spokesperson Linda Thompson confirmed that Officer Crumpler had consulted with the DA’s Office and the department’s attorney prior to charging Robertie. Thompson said Crumpler was out of the office until Monday, and could not confirm if the officer had originally sought to press charges against the driver and not against Robertie.
When the DA’s office was asked if they had in fact consulted with the officer, and if so, what advice had been given to him, the office declined to answer.
“Since this is a pending criminal matter our office cannot comment on the scope of the investigation,” according to spokesperson Samantha Dooies. “Our office will, as we do in all cases, consider all the evidence presented to us by the investigating agency and proceed with the case accordingly.”
On Thursday afternoon, the WPD clarified that Crumpler had brought the charges against Robertie.
Bye said he is also concerned about the department’s decision to release only one of the two videos — the one that does not show as clearly the bicycle being struck by the passing Land Rover. He explained what happened that night.
“So [Robertie] was walking along, stopped, and stood on the crosswalk so protestors could go behind him. The Land Rover approached and kept inching forward — the Land Rover was actually pushing on the bike and my friend had to step back further with the bicycle. Then the car inched forward closer again, coming into contact with the bike,” Bye said.
The driver and passenger were using vulgar language and obscene gestures toward the protestors, according to Bye. The driver then reversed several feet before swerving quickly around the protestors, clipping Robertie’s rear bicycle wheel in the process.
According to Sarah Hasch, who had filmed the second video (which was not released by the WPD), “the entire exchange was very aggressive.”
She said the interaction between the two people in the car and the protestors escalated when Robertie refused to move, protecting marchers still passing by behind him.“When he didn’t move, that’s when they came into physical contact with his bike,” Hasch said.
Because the WPD had communicated with leaders of the protest movement to avoid any conflict — and avoid citations they had been receiving recently — they were told to film such incidents, collect contact information, and file police reports, even if the other parties were the aggressor, according to Hasch.
When the WPD announced charges against Robertie, and not the driver, she said she was shocked. “The guy was clearly negligent and almost hit our protestor, who was trying to protect pedestrians in the walkway,” Hasch said.
‘Failure to register a bicycle’
WPD spokesperson Jessica Williams said the ‘failure to register a bicycle’ charge is a criminal infraction with a maximum penalty of $50 that cannot result in arrest, while impeding traffic is a Class III misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of $200 “and can result in arrest.”
The bike registration requirement is found in Chapter 5: Section 5-105 in the city’s ordinances (under Article VI. Registration and License Tax – Division 2: Bicycles).
“It shall be unlawful for any resident of the city to operate or ride a bicycle upon any of the streets, alleys or public ways of the city without obtaining a certificate of registration from the city chief of police and having attached to such a bicycle a decal registration issued by the chief of police in accordance with the provisions of this article,” the law states.
“A lot of people don’t know you’re supposed to register your bicycle within city limits,” Williams said on Thursday afternoon.
She said there had been a “hangup with the front desk” on whether to require people to register online or in-person, due to ongoing Covid-19 social distance requirements.
According to Williams, the law was likely adopted when the city code was adopted in December 1984.
“Deputy Chief Ben Kennedy supported that, saying it’s been in the city code since he first became a police officer,” she said.
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