A white Porsche SUV was driven into a crowd that was marching to the Santa Rosa Police Department — now, the driver and police claim she was the victim. The incident occurred just before 9:20 p.m. on Saturday, June 20, 2020, as about 150 marchers participating in a 24-Hour Protest for Peace and Justice took to Santa Rosa’s Sonoma Avenue as part of a candlelight vigil for victims of police brutality.
The crowd was led by a bicyclist and a pedestrian, each wearing body cameras, who alerted cars to the marchers so drivers could wait or alter their route. At about 9:20 p.m., protesters say that a white Porsche SUV briefly paused before the cyclist, then angled directly toward the center of the road and the crowd and accelerated toward marchers.
Several protesters say they filed police reports that night against the driver. Rigel Bowen and another protester who wished to remain anonymous each downloaded their body camera footage onto USB drives and provided them to police that evening when they filed official reports of the incident.
These videos show the vehicle approaching the front of the crowd. One protester motions toward the motorist with a flashlight to alert the vehicle of the march, directing her to turn around. The marchers can be heard chanting, “Black Lives Matter!”
Then, the car’s engine revs. The cyclist can be heard saying, “Hey, slow down,” just before the driver accelerates directly toward the marchers. The crowd’s chanting turns to screams and shouts of “What the f—-?”
Panicked protesters shouted to one another to get out of the way as the driver sped at them, dispersing marchers to each side of the road.
Protester Cindy Norman—who elected to use a pseudonym to protect her privacy—told The Bohemian that she and two of her children were almost hit by the driver.
Norman’s 11-year-old son said, “I was terrified. One minute we were peacefully marching down the street with our candles and then people started screaming…I froze until my mom told me to run. [The driver] was just a couple of feet from running me over.”
The next day, Santa Rosa Police Department issued a press release via Nixle titled, “Vehicle Vandalism and Assault during Planned Protest.” It describes the driver as a local nurse who was on her way home from work when she encountered the protesters.
The release, which describes only the driver as a victim, notes that several protesters called to report that the driver had driven recklessly through the crowd.
According to the press release, the driver stated that she pulled over as far to the right as she could, thinking protesters would let her through. She told police that she was “scared due to a ‘swarm’ of people blocking the street and her vehicle as she tried to continue westbound out of the crowd.”
As she passed, the driver told police that her vehicle was hit with a bicycle and a skateboard, breaking her windshield. She then alleged that someone followed her on a bike and punched her through her open window.
Protesters who spoke to the Bohemian expressed doubts that the driver was punched. “I don’t believe anyone was able to catch up to her car,” said Bowen.
In the press release, Santa Rosa Police Sgt. Summer Gloeckner said, “The videos do show the driver trying to accelerate somewhat away from the crowd.”
Norman disputes this account. “I absolutely feel that she meant to scare and hit as many people as possible. Her actions were not self-preservation — ours were,” she said.
Libby Cuffie called the motorist’s actions “domestic terrorism” and attempted murder. “The cops and local media are spinning that story as much as possible about her being a nurse to make her out to be a victim,” Cuffie said.
On June 22, a group of about 20 protesters who witnessed the encounter with the car gathered outside the Sonoma County District Attorney’s office and the Santa Rosa Police station, speaking to deputies at each location.
Cuffie said, “The goal was to get the DA and the cops to speak out on the situation and offer their support to the community and denounce this.”
“I’m worried,” said Cuffie. “Are more people going to be emboldened to do what this driver did, knowing that they may get away with it?”
On Monday, June 22, the Santa Rosa Police Department said the case has been passed to their Violent Crimes Investigation Team. That same day, protesters who spoke with a Deputy District Attorney indicated that charges have not yet been brought to their office.