Detectives are preparing legal documents for possible criminal charges after an 18-year-old man drove a pickup truck through a crowd of protesters rallying in support of Native American rights in downtown Reno, Police Chief Jason Soto said Wednesday. Soto made his remarks to the Reno City Council as a parade of American Indians, local clergy and others expressed their outrage over the fact no one’s been arrested after five protesters were struck Monday night by the truck on the street beneath the city’s famous arch with the slogan, “Biggest Little City in the World.” Soto said an affidavit is in the works that could lead to prosecution. But he said he won’t discuss the possible charges or any other details because the investigation is ongoing.
One woman was hospitalized with a fractured pelvis as a result of what several told the council they consider a hate crime. “It was clear the driver acted intentionally,” said Quanah Parker Brightman, the executive director of the San Francisco-based United Native Americans who helped organize the Columbus Day protest. “He stalked us, then he proceeded to run over innocent people,” he said. “Charge him with a hate crime for what he did to innocent people.”
The Rev. Luther DuPree, an African-American bishop who oversees the Northern Nevada Churches of God in Christ, questioned whether the driver remains free because he is white. “If it was any other culture, I believe an immediate arrest would have been made,” he said. Kitty Colbert, 59, the most seriously injured woman who remained hospitalized Wednesday, was accompanied at the rally by her grandchildren who “saw her run over like a bag of beans,” said Ray Valdez, who was drumming and leading the group in prayer just before the incident.
Soto said Tuesday the driver and a 17-year-old passenger contacted police within minutes of the incident. Officers interviewed them a few blocks away but did not take them into custody, he said. He said he couldn’t comment on whether they felt threatened by the crowd. Soto said the activists did not have a permit to protest in the street, but some had gathered in the travel lanes of Virginia Street on the main casino drag. Jessica White, a local artist, said the activists were gathering in the crosswalk for a group photograph when “the driver began honking and revving his truck’s engine in an obvious attempt to frighten us.”
“I saw a driver purposely drive into a group of people and continue until there were injuries and terror,” she said Wednesday. Tara Tran said the driver and passenger were yelling “racist” remarks before she was struck by the truck. “I’ve heard a lot of people say the protesters deserved it… they were blocking traffic,” Tran told the council. “We were not blocking their direction. They were following us. They were not scared. I looked into their eyes. It was not a look of fear. It was a look that they were having fun.”
Grace Potorti, ex-leader of the Nevada Conservation League, said she was driving the opposite direction on Virginia Street when she saw the truck “plow into people, stop and _ while people were lying on the road _ continue to run over them.”
“This happened under the very symbol of Reno,” she said. “It happened under the arch!”
Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve said in a statement Tuesday Reno police “will hold anyone responsible accountable for their actions once the investigation has concluded.”
“The city does not condone hate,” she said Wednesday.