In a late vote in the early morning hours Wednesday, the Oklahoma House of Representatives approved a bill that would grant protections to drivers who use their cars to injure or kill protestors, if they were "fleeing a riot" and claimed "a reasonable belief [that] their actions were necessary to protect them from serious injury or death."
House Bill 1674 was authored by Rep. Kevin West (R-Moore) and co-authored by Rep. Kevin McDugle (R-Broken Arrow). It passed 79-18 along party lines, with no Democrats voting in favor.
McDugle said he was inspired by an incident in Tulsa in May but erred significantly in his recounting of the events, during which a man drove his pick-up truck through a crowd of protestors.
"The incident specific [sic] that got me thinking about this was the incident in Tulsa where the truck driver had a trailer with a horse in it behind him. A crowd tried to block I-44 and keep traffic from moving. He was stopped dead in the road until bricks were thrown at his vehicle, a firebomb was actually thrown in the truck with the horse and burned the horse, and he tried to get away from that, so," McDugle said on the House floor.
As noted in a memo from Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler in July which was based on an investigation by the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, there were no horses present in the trailer during the incident, which took place on May 31, 2020, on I-244, not I-44. Witnesses to the event said members of the crowd only became agitated once the driver accelerated toward them, which Kunzweiler's memo said the driver claimed he did because he believed he had been waved forward by someone he took to be a protest organizer or leader. The acceleration into the crowd injured at least three people, including a man left paralyzed and a woman with a broken pelvis.
Kunzweiler's memo made no mention of any "firebomb" found in either the truck or horse trailer, noting only that a metal thermos bottle was found in the truck bed and a baseball cap with "AC/AB" and "[expletive] 12" written on it was found inside the trailer.
Under questioning from Rep. Regina Goodwin (D-Tulsa), McDugle also claimed not to know the man displayed a handgun to the crowd before driving through it, a fact captured on camera, included in many media reports and confirmed by Kunzweiler, who eventually decided to bring no charges in the matter.
"There was the death of George Floyd that caused Black folks and white folks and brown folks and red folks to gather and say, 'Guess what, America? We're better than this,'" Goodwin said. "And did you not know that is what triggered folks being in the streets? Did you not know that?"
McDugle declined to answer, replying only, "I'd entertain a question on this bill."
"I don't think that my line of questioning for you is complicated," Goodwin said. "You would not have created this bill had there not been something that was triggered in you, would you agree? That you felt you needed to say, 'Hey, if you're an automobile and you've got these folks in the street and they're protesting in the street' -- for some reason that you don't know about, because there was no reason for you to write this bill because you didn't know what caused it -- and then you say, 'Guess what? I'm going to be able to be not held liable because I can say that I feared for my life and my property, so I was fleeing and I was fleeing driving forward through a crowd.'"
"Do you see how that can be a little bit hard to take? That you're okay with a big piece of metal running over flesh and bones?" Goodwin asked.
"No, ma'am," McDugle said.
The bill will proceed to the Senate, where it is authored by Rep. Rob Standridge (R-Norman).