SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — It’s a situation that’s becoming more common: run-ins between cars and demonstrators.
There were several incidents Monday which has many asking themselves what they would do, and what you’re supposed to do in those situations.
This is the video many are talking about — protesters surrounded a CHP cruiser and then one climbed on top and was thrown off as the officer sped away.
Protesters were outraged. “It was a hit and run, you guys all saw it,” Lieutenant Coopwood III said.
Former Sacramento County Sheriff and law enforcement consultant John McGinnis says the video tells a different story.
“He fled the immediate area to protect himself and his equipment, and then he stopped,” McGinnis said.
McGinnis explains while there is no official law enforcement protocol for what to do when protesters jump on your car, he says officers have a duty to protect themselves, their vehicles and the weapons inside.
” I think he had every reason to fear for his life, and that’s what it comes down to, frankly. That’s the legal spin here. Was it reasonable,” McGinnis said.
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Erwin Chemerinsky, the Dean of UC Berkeley Law, agrees that the term “reasonable” is key.
“The officers are allowed to protect themselves. But that doesn’t mean they can run over people unnecessarily,” Chemerinsky said.
He says the same is true for regular citizens in cars surrounded by protesters.
“If somebody reasonably feels in danger for his or her safety, then the person can do what’s necessary for self-protection,” Chemerinksy said.
But he says that’s not free reign to injure protesters. For instance, a car in Roseville last month appeared to turn her wheel slowly driving through protesters.
Chemerinksy suggests driving slowly through the crowd, a stark contrast to at least one incident Monday where a car sideswiped protesters standing on the side of the road.
“From what I’ve heard it sounds like a car swerved into protesters,” Chemerinksy said. “That (would be) a criminal violation. That’s a basis for civil liability, too.”
Ultimately, he says it comes down to the demeanor of the crowd and if the driver is directly threatened. But both legally and ethically, he says drivers should use the least amount of force possible.