District Attorney General Ken Baldwin said Thursday he had received more than a dozen calls from people about a North Carolina man’s aggravated assault charge, which came after video showed his SUV running over a Black Lives Matter demonstrator last weekend in Johnson City.
“It’s both sides,” Baldwin said.
Jared Benjamin Lafer, 27, 147 Rockdale Road, Bakersville, North Carolina, was charged with aggravated assault, a class B felony that carries 8-12 years for someone with no criminal history, after he knocked a man down and drove over him on Sunday around 7:30 p.m.
Many have questioned why police didn’t charge Lafer with leaving the scene, attempted manslaughter and other seemingly more appropriate crimes.
Baldwin said the problem lies with Tennessee state law, which makes aggravated assault a higher class felony than attempted voluntary manslaughter and even attempted second-degree murder.
And state law on leaving the scene specifically relates to accidental conduct.
“That’s not to say we haven’t closed our mind to that,” Baldwin said. “We’re certainly going to look at all potential charges, but we wouldn’t add those until it goes to the grand jury.”
He also explained how Tennessee law works in regard to an attempted-crime charge.
“Any attempted crime is one step down from the principle crime,” Baldwin said, and said investigators are considering all the possibilities of additional charges that could be placed against Lafer.
Baldwin said he had received about 15 emails and phone calls on the case, with about half calling for more serious charges and about half saying his actions were justified.
While that may not seem to be many, Baldwin said outside of an animal cruelty case, he rarely gets calls from the public.
“I never get a call or email from the general public about a crime,” he said. “The victim’s family, yes, but not from the general public.”
On Saturday night, cellphone video posted to social media showed a white Ford Expedition accelerating into two demonstrators who were standing in a crosswalk in front of the vehicle near the intersection of West State of Franklin Road and Spring Street. According to protesters and police, the vehicle then left the scene.
Investigators determined Lafer was the driver, and his attorney said Lafer had been in Johnson City having dinner with relatives.
Attorney Mac Meade said after Lafer’s arraignment that his client was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“This is not about racism,” Meade said. “It’s a case about a man who found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time, faced with what he perceived as a dangerous situation. His entire family — his wife and three young kids under the age of 6 were all in the car with him — and he thought it was necessary to get out of a situation that was dangerous to his family.”
The victim, a 31-year-old Johnson City man, was taken to Johnson City Medical Center for treatment. A second victim, a 26-year-old Johnson City woman, was struck by the SUV but did not have injuries requiring treatment.