Jared Benjamin Lafer, pictured, has not been charged with previous counts of aggravated assault after a grand jury in a Tennessee court had voted not to indict Lafer
A white man who ran over a Black Lives Matter protestor in Tennessee last year, then joked about it on social media, has had all charges against him dropped.
Jared Benjamin Lafer, 27, drove his SUV through a group of activists at a Black Lives Matter rally last September in Johnson City, Tennessee, and then sped away from the scene — leaving behind a man with a concussion, brain bleed, and two broken legs — will face no charges.
He also commented on a distasteful joke about running over protesters on Facebook after the incident, branding it ‘Great!’ The comment was later deleted.
Lafer’s lawyers argued in court that he’d mowed down the protester because he feared for his family’s life, who were also in the car, after being ‘surrounded’ by demonstrators.
Lafer was originally charged for aggravated assault, a Class C felony, before it was changed to a reckless aggravated assault, a class D felony in May.
On Monday, a grand jury in Washington County Criminal Court dismissed all charges after returning a ‘no true’ bill — a finding by jurors that there is not enough evidence to decide that Lafer committed a crime.
The lack of evidence ruling is surprising as the incident was caught on camera and took place in front of multiple witnesses.
Cellphone video shows Lafer running over the protester with his SUV, narrowly missing the protester’s dog, and almost hitting a second person who got to jump out of the car’s way before it sped away from the scene.
After the incident, the video went viral on social media, prompting state police to lead a two-day manhunt for the hit-and-run driver.
Lafer was finally tracked down by his out-of-state license plate number, which appears in the video.
Footage shows as the demonstrator was hit in Johnson City on September 13, 2020. The driver of the SUV, later identified as Lafer by police, heads straight at the protester, knocking him to the ground before driving over him and leaving the scene
By the time of the arrest, Lafer’s social media comments (pictured) joking about running over protesters had been deleted from the internet, preserved only in screengrabs captured by a local progressive news site.
Lafer never pulled over to check on the person he had ran over. Instead, he drove back to North Carolina, his home state, and hired a lawyer to talk to police and take care of the case.
He turned himself in two days after committing the crime. He was later released on a $20,000 bond.
Victoria Hewlett, a witness along with her husband, were sitting in a parked car at an intersection just yards from the scene.
They told the Daily Beast that protesters were obeying crosswalk and traffic laws before mentioning that Lafer had pulled up behind her car, then swerved around it ‘pretty aggressively’.
Then, he proceeded to go around the corner and drive ‘directly into where the protesters were in the crosswalk.’
She said that Lafer rolled over Jonathan Bowers, the primary victim, without breaking before the intersection and ‘bumped’ him with his SUV before running him over and leaving him unconscious on the road.
Bower also gave a similar account in a hospital-bed affidavit and subsequent testimony.
The driver of the Ford Expedition, later identified as Lafer, heads straight at the protester, knocking him to the ground before driving over him and leaving the scene
Hewlett recalled Bowers regaining consciousness shortly thereafter, ‘screaming in pain’ and asking about his dog.
Hewlett and her husband recorded the nearly-fatal incident and the events following it on camera.
She added that she didn’t see any of the protestors acting aggressively towards Lafar’s car, which goes along with the footage captured on video.
‘The only thing that had occurred’ before Lafler ran over Bowers, Hewlett recalled, was that BLM protestors ‘kind of looked at him like, what the fuck? That’s where he apparently feels threatened.’
‘After he drives into people and they’re stunned and throwing their hands up, like what are you doing, that’s what he’s trying to construe as being in danger.’
Lafer’s defense lawyers based their argument around the issue of safety, claiming that Lafer ‘found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time, faced with what he perceived as a dangerous condition, dangerous situation,’ according to lawyer Mac Meade.
‘His entire family, his wife and his three young kids under the age of six were all in the car with him. And he did what he felt was necessary to get out of a situation that he felt was dangerous to his family.’
Lafer, who was released on $20,000 bond, is from Bakersville, North Carolina, which is an hour from Johnson City. He is pictured in court in 2020
There were about ten people at this ‘dangerous situation,’ most of whom weren’t near Lafer’s case, as the video shows, and only came closer when they rushed to check on Bowers, a white man as well, after Lafer knocked and ran him over.
Online profiles for Lafer show that was a real estate agent at the time of the incident, who had recently worked for Coldwell Banker King.
Owner Terri King told News 11: ‘Mr. Lafer was an independent contractor with Coldwell Banker King. He is no longer affiliated with our company. We have no relationship with Jared Lafer.’
The Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project reported 69 malicious vehicle-ramming attacks against protesters between May 28 and September 15 of 2020.
People also drove their cars into protestors more than 100 times between May 27 and September 5 of 2020, according to a project on security and threats from the University of Chicago.
Nearly half of those cases (43) were caused by drivers with obvious malicious intent, clearly shown by the yelling of racial slurs or other aggressive conduct. Of those 104 drivers, just 39 faced any criminal charges.
After being told that Lafer would face no charges, Hewlett reacted with a jaded look, hardly looking surprised with the outcome.
‘I’m obviously appalled by the whole process,’ she said. ‘But I had been getting trickles of information that the charges were getting reduced, so I already wasn’t super hopeful.
‘It’s just been a slow burn of they’re going to let this guy get away with this. That’s how it always goes. I don’t really know what else to say at this point.