The Bakersfield Police Department said Thursday it had released a motorist accused of intentionally hitting and injuring a protester Wednesday night — then in the face of social media blowback emphasized hours later the case remains open.
The protester was in critical condition at a local hospital Thursday after a night of tense confrontations between motorists and protesters.
BPD originally said the incident’s "primary collision factor" appeared to be the pedestrian walking on lanes of traffic outside a crosswalk in the 3100 block of California Avenue.
"There was no report of any kind of altercation between the driver and the protestors prior to the collision, nor was there any report of the driver accelerating or making movements to indicate he was targeting the pedestrian," the agency said in a news release at 12:43 p.m. Thursday. "The driver showed no signs of impairment and speed does not appear to be a factor in the collision."
It put out another release at 5:06 p.m. saying several members of the community had posted on social media “regarding their beliefs and statements that the pedestrian in this incident was struck intentionally.”
“The investigation is still open and officers are still seeking additional witnesses and video evidence,” it wrote, adding that anyone with information about the case is encouraged to contact investigators at 327-7111 or email Officer C. Ott at email@example.com.
The protester and the driver were not identified.
The department said protesters were walking west on California Avenue in opposite lanes of traffic but that most were in the westbound lanes.
BPD said the collision occurred shortly before 10:23 p.m. when the vehicle struck the pedestrian in eastbound lanes. It said the driver pulled over on the nearest side street and awaited police.
Drivers appeared to confront protesters earlier Wednesday during the sixth night of protests in downtown Bakersfield.
In one incident along Truxtun Avenue, a man stepped out of his truck and argued with protesters.
Separately, on California Avenue, a truck was observed accelerating quickly toward a group of protesters before suddenly braking.
Not long afterward, another truck confronted protesters in an apparent act of intimidation. A demonstrator threw a water bottle at the truck, escalating tensions.
Sgt. Nathan McCauley, a public information officer at BPD, said in a phone interview the department was aware of verbal confrontations and had stopped different vehicles leaving the protest area.
But he said he was unaware of anyone using vehicles in a threatening manner Wednesday night.
"On both ends of this we’re looking at potential free speech issues here," he said. “If someone’s just saying something contradictory, does that make it illegal?”
The agency brought up two particular clashes between protesters and drivers Wednesday.
The first of these reportedly occurred at 7:45 p.m. at the intersection of Chester Avenue and 23rd Street. The department said a vehicle "drove through and nearly struck several protesters that were kneeling in the intersection."
BPD also said that, at 10:10 p.m. in the 1700 block of Truxtun Avenue, a driver reported protesters attempted to open the doors of his vehicle as he was driving.
The department additionally reported it's investigating vehicle vandalism at 7:53 p.m. in the area of 23rd and H streets. It said the damage is believed to be related to protests in the area.
On Saturday, BPD arrested a man who it said drove a small SUV into a crowd of protesters assembled Friday evening on Truxtun.
The agency reported that Michael Tran, 31, had repeatedly driven by protesters in a Toyota RAV4, engaging in conversation and possibly antagonizing them.
BPD said Tran gestured at several protesters, who approached the car. Tran then accelerated quickly and drove through the crowd, hitting a 15-year-old girl and causing minor injuries, the department stated.