An attorney for a North Carolina man charged with running over a Black Lives Matter supporter over the weekend said his client was afraid for himself and his family when he encountered marchers at a downtown intersection.
Jared Benjamin Lafer, 27, 147 Rockdale Road, Bakersville, North Carolina, appeared in Washington County General Sessions Court Tuesday for his arraignment on an aggravated assault charge. His attorneys, Mac Meade and Chris Rogers, asked Judge Robert Lincoln for a status hearing date to allow them time to investigate what happened Saturday night at the intersection of State of Franklin Road and Spring Street.
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.
After the arraignment, Meade told reporters that his client was in Johnson City and had dinner with relatives when the encounter happened.
“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.
A Johnson City police report listed nine witnesses to the incident.
One witness, Brent Chaffin, posted another witness’ video to Facebook, and it was shared widely on social media.
Chaffin, one of the protest organizers, said demonstrators were marching from the Johnson City Police Department when they stopped to demonstrate on either side of a crosswalk near the intersection, which they have been doing during marches in the past week.
The video did not show what led up to the incident, but Chaffin said it began when the driver reportedly began inching forward, trying to get past the demonstrators.
The video shows at least two people standing in front of the vehicle before it moves forward and strikes them, appearing to run over at least one. The video also captured the license plate on the vehicle.
According to a court document obtained late Monday, the victim was interviewed at the hospital. He told police he was downtown walking his dog and taking photos when he joined the Black Lives Matter protesters.
As the group crossed State of Franklin Road, some drivers were impatient as the protesters crossed the street and blew their horns. Someone in a black vehicle “flicked-off” the participants as the driver maneuvered around the group.
He told police that a white SUV honked and the driver kept rolling forward at about two miles per hour and bumped the victim before knocking him down and running over his legs.
Documents allege the driver, later identified as Lafer, drove away without attempting to assist or check on the welfare of the victims.
He turned himself in at the Washington County Detention Center on Monday and was released on a $20,000 bond. His next court appearance was set for Oct. 26.