A woman who was charged with assault after striking a person with her SUV last summer during a protest following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis has been found not guilty of that charge by a Denver jury.
After jurors handed down their verdict on Friday, attorneys for the driver, Jennifer Watson, issued a statement on the firm’s Facebook page that said, in part, “Ms. Watson should not have been charged. We appreciate the jury’s verdict of not guilty to the assault charge.”
However, jurors did find Watson guilty of a misdemeanor offense for reckless driving, Fox News reported.
Watson’s lawyers argued that she was in fear of being harmed during the May 2020 protest occurring in Denver, with the defense noting “she was surrounded by people who began kicking and hitting her car and taunting and yelling at her.”
“On the evening of May 28, 2020, my client was just trying to get home, driving a route she took regularly, when she was diverted by protesters at the intersection of East Colfax and Broadway,” her lawyer noted in a statement last year.
“She was alone in her car with her dog when she was surrounded by people who began kicking and hitting her car and taunting and yelling at her,” the statement continued. “While stopped, Mr. Max Bailey jumped up onto the hood of her car and her windshield was smashed in two places. She was terrified and fearful for her safety.”
Video taken during the incident went viral last year. It showed Watson’s vehicle making its way through an intersection before being set upon by several people including Max Bailey, now 22, who crawled onto the black SUV’s hood.
Running over a nonviolent protester should be illegal. Law statement: ”the driver must be ’exercising due care,’ and the person in the roadway must be there to protest and be purposefully blocking the vehicles.” @COJudiciaryComm #Colorado #Coleg pic.twitter.com/LuD0blWLRb
— ᒍOSᕼᑌᗩ ᒍEᖇEᗪ (@Joshuajered) July 6, 2020
Moments later, Bailey is seen being tossed from the vehicle, landing on his feet. But Watson appears to turn towards him and strikes him with her vehicle before speeding away.
In an interview with local 9NEWS the following day, Bailey claimed that he crawled onto Watson’s hood to avoid being run over.
“The reason I was in front of the car was to make sure everyone was safe and to get this lady to stop from running over protesters,” he said. “The reason I got on top of the car was because she accelerated into me and I’m not going to lie down and let somebody run over me.”
Watson’s defense team argued in court that the local district attorney’s office filed charges against their client because of public pressure from the viral video.
Following the verdict, the district attorney’s office said in a statement that officials “felt comfortable taking to a jury and we thank the jury for their service.”
Watson’s case follows a push by some Republican governors for so-called “anti-rioting” legislation. In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill earlier this year which he lauded as the nation’s “strongest” law against rioting.
“We saw last summer some of the local governments were actually telling, not necessarily in Florida but throughout the country, basically telling these folks to stand, telling police to stand down while cities burned, while businesses were burned, while people were being harmed,” DeSantis noted in April. “That’s a dereliction of duty.”
Florida’s legislation gives civil immunity to anyone who drives through protesters blocking a road. It also makes it harder for local governments to defund their police departments while also barring those accused of being party to a riot from bailing out of jail before they make their initial court appearance.
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