Despite extensive video footage, photographs, dozens of witnesses, broken bones and bruised spirits, the extensive evidence against a driver who apparently plowed through Occupy Oakland protesters Lance Laverdure and Margaret So nearly a week and a half ago has yet to produce legal action, as the driver has not been questioned, cited or arrested by the Oakland Police Department.
And the victims of this seemingly brazen assault want answers. In a rare interview about the Nov. 2 incident, the injured protesters are speaking out, pleading for action and demanding that the person responsible for their pain be brought to justice.
"We want answers," said Laverdure, 29, in a phone interview on Thursday evening. "We want this person arrested for attempted murder."
Laverdure's attorney, Simona Farrise, said that police have not interviewed her client or So since the night they were hit by an unidentified driver at an intersection crowded with protesters. Farrise said the lack of a thorough investigation by Oakland police is botched at best and "aiding and abetting" at worst. As further evidence, the lawyer points to an incident report that doesn't even mention So, the second victim, by name.
Shortly after Laverdure and So were struck, responding police officers allowed the driver of the car to leave the scene without so much as a citation or summons, Farrise and police said.
The incident happened just before 7 p.m., at the intersection of 11th and Broadway, as protesters spilled from Occupy Oakland protests that had spread over several blocks in the area. Video shows Laverdure and So walking with dozens of other people through the intersection, when a light-colored Mercedes Benz pulls up within a few feet of them. As the car inches closer to the couple, Laverdure stops and turns, gesturing with his hands toward the driver. The car inches closer, nudging Laverdure's leg. Leverdure is then seen banging a fist on the hood. Moments later the video shows the car speeding forward, tossing So to the side and launching Laverdure onto the hood and then into the air.
Laverdure landed with a thud, witnesses say.
"I thought he was dead," said So, whose ankle was crushed by the speeding car. Laverdure survived but suffered internal bleeding, a damaged liver and post-traumatic stress and anxiety, according to his attorney.
Farrise said several witnesses called 911, but no Oakland police officers responded to the scene, though a police station is located about five blocks away.
Johnna Watson, a public information officer with the Oakland Police Department, said the case has been handed over to the department's major cases squad and that all leads are being followed. She said while it was unclear whether investigators have talked with the driver, whose name has not been released by police, they are investigating the case as a felony assault. She said the case will be referred to the District Attorney next week, and that the DA will determine if charges will be filed against the driver.
"From the far racist extreme, this is what you get when you think" of law enforcement in Oakland, Farrise said. "Does the life of a black man in Oakland mean so little that someone can just drive over them, nearly killing them with no response by authorities? Is that where we are in America?"
Laverdure is African American, and So is Asian American.
Attorneys representing both victims plan on holding a press conference today at 1:30 p.m. (PST) at the Waterfront Hotel at Jack London Square in Oakland.
Watson said Oakland police were busy tending to the protests and did not have the manpower to respond to the alleged assault of Laverdure and So.
Witnesses at the scene ran into a nearby subway station and alerted Bay Area Rapid Transit police.
Lt. Frank Lucarelli, of BART police, said that officers went to the street to investigate, though it is not their jurisdiction, and found the two victims being tended to by emergency medical workers. Lucarelli said BART police radioed Oakland police and that they were instructed to take the names of any witnesses and victims, and that Oakland PD would take it from there.
Lucarelli said BART officers were justified in allowing the driver to leave the scene, as the driver did not seem intoxicated and the emotional nature of the situation and the crowd of protesters made any further investigation problematic.
"We did everything we were supposed to do," Lucarelli said. "We just didn't have enough probable cause at the scene, nor was the scene conducive to doing a full-blown investigation. We had no choice but to let the driver go," he said. "We would do the same thing again if we were in that situation."
What has been perceived by the victims, their attorneys and their supporters as apparent inaction by authorities seems yet another black eye for police in a city that in recent years has weathered a spate of ugly police incidents, including the shooting death of Oscar Grant by BART police on New Year's Day in 2009.
"It doesn't make any sense at all," said So, a paralegal, who had to have metal screws and brackets inserted into her ankle to hold together her shattered bones. "BART police did not do their job. I hate to say this, but I'm wondering if the driver was of a different race, if the outcome would be a little different? Would he have been held? Would he have been held accountable?"
Both So and Laverdure said it was their first day attending the protests and that they were drawn by the cross-section of participants, the unity and positive energy of the event.
Before the day came to a violent conclusion, with the couple being hoisted into ambulances and rushed to a local hospital, it had been an "awesome day," Laverdure said.
He'd arrived at the protests about 1:30 pm. "It was like a festival. Everyone was just friendly, the weather was great and everyone was enjoying the outside," he said. "It wasn't like a party atmosphere, it was just a really positive, everyone there for one cause."
Laverdure was laid off more than a year ago from his position as a bank teller and had come out "to support everyone" at the protest.
"I'm still just trying to figure out what's going to happen," he said. "The driver had time to think, to react, and his reaction was, 'Screw you guys.'"
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