VPD has submitted all reports to the DA’s Office for review but no arrests have been made in the May 30 clash on Mooney Boulevard
VISALIA – Local protests may have started as part of a national movement sparked by a white officer killing a black citizen but their numbers are growing over occupants of a blue Jeep that ran over two protesters three weeks ago.
According to the Visalia Police Department, the May 30 incident at the corner of Caldwell Avenue and Mooney Boulevard involved three occupants of a blue Jeep were in the third lane of traffic heading south on Mooney. The Jeep had attached, a “Trump” flag and an American flag. When the Jeep stopped at the right light near the Black Lives Matter protest of hundreds of people, words were exchanged between the protesters and the occupants of the Jeep.
Protesters left the sidewalk and blocked the Jeep’s path forward. All the while throwing water, and water bottles at the people in the car. In a short 14 second video posted to the Visalia Police Department’s YouTube account, the Jeep lurches forward, hitting two of the protesters.
The next day, Visalia Police Chief Jason Salazar released a six-minute video providing the public with an update. The protesters hit by the Jeep suffered minor wounds that did not require medical attention. Salazar said that the driver of the Jeep immediately called the Visalia Police Department and then drove to a substation to report the incident himself. He added that the protesters also called the Visalia Police Department to report the incident. Throughout his nearly six-minute statement, Salazar denounced the killing of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis Police Officer as “disturbing” and “horrific” but that the the May 30 incident bared fault on both sides.
“The driver of the vehicle acted irresponsibly and protesters should not enter into the roadway to impede vehicles or throw items at vehicles as part of a peaceful protest,” Salazar said. “Protests that impede traffic, damage property and acts of violence threaten the safety of our community and the protesters and cannot be allowed. Confrontations between participants of protest and observers of protests are not productive and make it difficult for our officers to protect and serve all involved.”
Salazar goes on to dispel myths that the driver of the Jeep is directly related to a Visalia Police officer. He said the people in the Jeep are not immediate family of a Visalia Police officer but there is an extended relation with one of the individuals to a Visalia officer.
“However, that officer is not investigating the incident and that relationship has had no bearing on the investigation of this case or our department’s response to this incident,” Salazar said.
He concludes his message by saying that VPD is committed to protecting all citizens and shares the public’s “anger and frustration over what has occurred.”
“Mutual respect is critical and necessary. We can only heal and make progress together, all of us for each other,” Salazar said.
Those were the last public statements made by Salazar or the department. Sgt. Celeste Sanchez, public information officer for VPD, confirmed on Friday that no arrests have been made in the case but could not comment further.
David Alavezos, assistant district attorney for Tulare County, said the case is currently under review as the DA’s Office has received the completed investigative reports by VPD. He suggested the case was more complex than the video portrays.
“There is more than just the occupants in the Jeep as suspects,” Alavezos said. “We have to look at various legal issues involved in the case. Things look very simple until you start reading through the instructions.”
Two days after the incident, a group of about 50 people gathered outside of the Tulare County Superior Courthouse in Visalia to demand that the District Attorney’s Office file charges against the driver of the Jeep. The calls for justice have grown louder and have dominated the public comment period at Visalia City Council meetings.
Visalia resident Samantha Marquez asked why it was taking so long to arrest the driver. She said the driver’s actions constitute the definition of a hit and run because the driver knew that moving his vehicle would cause injury to another person, his actions did cause injury to another person and then he left the scene without leaving his information or waiting for police.
“The driver failed to do all three even though he reported it to police,” Marquez said. “You cannot deny the language for this law clearly defines what happened on May 30 in this city.”
On June 8, Mary Jane Galviso said she was compelled to come to the council meeting form her home in Orosi saying she was “horribly traumatized by events of May 30.” She called the incident a hate crime and asked that the police department’s failure to arrest the driver be put on the agenda for discussion.
“How safe do people feel when two men can just drive into a crowd and basically get away with it?,” she asked. “I think it’s beyond barbarism.”
Sean Mercer said he came to express his “strong disappointment” for Salazar’s statement that both parties were at fault.
“While they may have been in the right-of-way at that time, that doesn’t make it appropriate to strike someone with a vehicle,” Mercer said. “The statement makes it very clear that you feel both parties were in the wrong rather than making it clear that violence toward someone is not appropriate.”
Pamela Silva called the two protesters the aggressors and defended the actions of the driver saying “Those kids made the right decision by getting out of there.” She said she had personally experienced a similar situation where she was holding a Trump 2020 sign and had things thrown at here while people cursed at for her political beliefs but never thought about blocking traffic.
“I don’t feel safe in my town,” she said referring to protests on the corners, reckless car races on the streets and illegal fireworks being shot overhead. “We need our police. Without law there is order and without law and order there is no justice. “Back the blue!”