Tulsa County DA Says No Charges For Truck Driver From Highway Protest Incident

Jul 24, 2020

Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler announced Thursday that his office will not be pursuing charges against the driver of a truck who drove through a crowd on I-244 during a protest on May 31st.

Kunzweiler said in a memo released Thursday that the driver, his wife, and his two children, were all "in a state of immediate fear for their safety" inside the truck, and were the victims of a "violent and unprovoked attack by multiple individuals who unnecessarily escalated an already dangerous circumstance by obstructing an interstate highway."

In a phone interview with Public Radio Tulsa on Friday, Kunzweiler said the first bad actions of the day were committed by protestors who chose not to proceed along a law enforcement-approved route for their demonstration, instead walking onto I-244.

"This segment of folks just apparently decided that they had a right to go ahead and try and occupy an interstate highway, so the consequences that kind of flowed from that are somewhat anticipated. You're going to go up against vehicles that are on a highway, there's not really going to be a good outcome, in my opinion," Kunzweiler said.

"At the end of the day, what I'm looking at is a family who's literally doing what they have an absolute right to do, and that's drive down an interstate highway," he said.

Accounts from journalists and demonstrators have said that people in the crowd were not the instigators, and that things only grew violent when the driver accelerated toward them. Kunzweiler said that the driver says he only began to drive forward after he was waved forward by a protestor who he believed to be "in charge."

Kunzweiler said that that acceleration toward the crowd triggered  "violent conduct," including one person using an expandable baton and people trying to rip off the vehicle's side mirrors. That's why, he said, he wants the Oklahoma Highway Patrol to attempt to identify certain members of the crowd.

"I recognize, and I think law enforcement certainly recognizes, that sometimes people are going to protest and sometimes they're going to stray beyond what their legal rights are. Oklahoma law is clear: you can't occupy a roadway. But law enforcement's not asking for, nor am I, looking at trying to go after somebody who was up there and somehow believed they were justified in being up there and occupying the roadway." 

"I want law enforcement to be investigating to ascertain whether criminal charges can be brought," Kunzweiler said, against those he considers to have acted violently.

Asked about photographs indicating the driver produced a firearm, Kunzweiler said the man was well within his rights.

"He never brandished that firearm. He certainly acknowledges that he had placed that firearm in front of him on the dashboard," Kunzweiler said.

"He has an absolute right, one, to possess a firearm, but, two, he also has the right to defend himself and his family if they're put in a position of fear of great bodily injury or death."

In the memo, Kunzweiler acknowledges three injuries to members of the crowd: a woman with an ankle injury; a woman with a broken pelvis/hip; and a man who is now paralyzed. The memo says that "the crowd" is responsible for the man being paralyzed and the woman's pelvis/hip being shattered, but acknowledges the ankle injury was caused by the driver of the vehicle.

The memo says that there were no horses inside the horse trailer being hauled behind the truck, "although there have been rampant rumors to the contrary." 

In order to clarify jurisdiction, the memo says the location of the incident was not within the boundaries of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.