Sheriffs Blame Cyclist Victim in OC Road Rage Bottle-Throwing Incident

Screen capture showing Gatorade bottle thrown at cyclist. Source: Youtube
Screen capture showing Gatorade bottle thrown at cyclist. Source: Youtube

On May 31, 2014, Bryan Larsen was bicycling on a crowded stretch of Pacific Coast Highway in south Orange County. He began to notice a pattern of harassment by the occupants of a large white 4×4 Ram Truck, with Texas Virginia license plate “TX 65-500.” When passing cyclists, the truck would spew thick black coal-rolling exhaust.

Larsen got out his phone and began to record video. He then captured this road rage incident.  The truck swerved out of the car lane toward Larsen, who was riding in the bike lane. The truck slowed and its passenger threw a bottle full of Gatorade at the cyclist. When Larsen held his phone up and shouted that he had captured the incident on video, the truck blasted more exhaust and drove away.

In a television interview, Larsen describes the incident:

I was in a lot of fear. They came into the bike lane. The tires were as big as I was and I thought they were going to run me over.

Larsen posted the video online and reported the incident, submitting the evidence to the Orange County Sheriffs Department.

OCSD responded that they were investigating, but stated that there really was nothing law enforcement could do, since even though it was caught on video, no sheriff had actually been present to eye-witness to the incident.

Meanwhile, the video went viral. The incident was reported in local media. Larsen approached Arizona-based advocacy organization Look! Save A Life which produced an annotated version of the video, slowing down and clarifying what occurred. Just over a month passed with no response from OCSD.

On July 7, Look! Save A Life published this Open Letter to the Orange County Sheriffs Department. The letter was also shared widely.

The next day, the OC Sheriffs finally responded.

But not quite in the way cyclists expected.

OCSD stated that they will not be charging the truck’s driver. They may charge the passenger with assault and battery for throwing the bottle.

And the kicker: OCSD plans to charge cyclist Bryan Larsen for shouting obscenities. On the video, Larsen can be heard stating “do that f—ing on video right now!”

According to the Orange County Register:

Charges are also being recommended against the bicyclist, [OCSD Lieutenant Jeff Hallock] said, who is suspected of using “offensive words in public, likely to provoke a violent reaction.” Officials suspect the cyclist made “rude, disparaging comments” before the incident was recorded on his cellphone, Hallock said.

It is a sad, ironic double standard. OC sheriffs had declined to prosecute life-threatening road rage because they had not actually witnessed it. But they are willing to charge this cyclist for words they didn’t actually hear.

Bicycling in L.A.‘s Ted Rogers sums up the Orange County Sheriffs’ response well:

[T]he US Supreme Court has repeatedly held that offensive language and gestures are protected as free speech under the 1st Amendment. […] Hallock makes it clear investigators are only assuming that Larson said something so offensive as to justify a violent attack with a deadly weapon.

As if anything could.

Would they still feel the driver was justified if he had pulled out a gun and started shooting at the cyclist? Legally, there’s no difference; only the choice of weapon used.

And never mind what actually precipitated the event. [Larsen] was clearly responding to something the driver had done before the camera started recording.

What, we may never know, since the threat of criminal charges will now force him to remain silent. Which is probably the real intent.

Legally, there’s no valid case against him. So the question becomes, why is the OCSD trying so hard to intimidate the victim of a violent crime — while letting the primary perpetrator off scott-free?

And what does it say to every other bike rider south of the Orange Curtain when even video evidence isn’t good enough to get the authorities to give a damn about our safety — let alone threaten us for reporting it?

Sheriff Sandra Hutchens and her department are sending a clear message to everyone who travels by two wheels that we remain second-class citizens in her jurisdiction.

Unfortunately the Sheriffs’ response to this road rage incident shows that they still practice outdated windshield-perspective policing. When drivers commit dangerous, life-threatening actions, sheriffs look the other way. When cyclists and pedestrians are threatened in road rage incidents, it is their own fault.

Many municipalities are embracing Vision Zero. Law enforcement agencies, including the SFPD, are working to align law enforcement practices to prioritize safety by minimizing traffic deaths and injuries. Hopefully, this incident, and the unwanted attention it has brought to OCSD practices, will spur awareness and reform.

  • mwbyrd

    Find out who owns the truck. Probably related to an officer on the force!

  • sahra

    Several years ago, I was biking along the L.A. river bike path when a guy sitting up against a wall made lewd comments to me. As I tended to do back then, I flipped him off and muttered “f*ck you!,” not expecting him to jump on his bike and chase me for more than a mile. When we got to one of the bridges near the soccer fields/interchanges, he passed me, threw the bike down, and came after me on foot, threatening to rape me. I turned around as fast as I could and got off the path at Glendale Blvd. I flagged down a motorcycle cop to explain I’d nearly been assaulted and that I was worried about other women and the families that rode the path. The officer proceeded to inform me he was going to cite me for profanity and professed his utter lack of interest in the potential rapist. At the time, I chalked it up to the sexism I regularly experienced from officers. But, I think part of it has to do with (beyond pure laziness) a genuine lack of understanding of (or interest in understanding) how vulnerable cyclists are and what kinds of things make them feel vulnerable. When you see a video, it is hard to know what transpired before or after it was turned on/off. There may be more to the story…In this case, I imagine there must be, if a driver actually made the effort to pass and harass a cyclist/group several times. But it is clear that officers are not cognizant of how powerful a weapon a fast-moving vehicle or the objects flying out of it can be, or how terrifying it can be when you find yourself confined to a small strip of space and pitted against an irrationally enraged person who is behind the wheel of a multi-ton truck.

  • overly squeamish

    I tend to stick my chewing gum on cars that annoy me. :P
    Not assigning blame but Fred, I mean, Bryan Larsen really should have had his mind focused more on safety than documentation. I would have slowed down for 30 seconds and the problem would have been gone. Those Strava guys have different priorities than I do.
    sahra I love you

  • M

    Considering the speeds the cars are moving in that video, I have a hard time believing that a cyclist yelling something had anything to do with the initial situation escalating. It would be awfully difficult for the bicyclist to get the attention of the drivers just by yelling at them in that sort of situation. Furthermore, I know through my own experience and that of others, when a bicyclist starts yelling at a car driver, it’s usually because the car driver did something that was threatening to the bicyclist, whether it was intentional or not.

  • Brian J

    Don’t they prosecute rape and murder charges on a regular basis when there wasn’t an officer present to witness the crime?

  • Profanity is protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution those deputies swear an oath to uphold and protect. Bottle tossing? Not so much.

  • Joe Linton

    Apparently they won’t charge “traffic infractions” they didn’t witness, but they will charge felonies. They were treating the video as evidence of something like an illegal lane change – not as assault.

    See Biking in L.A.’s explanation http://bikinginla.com/2014/07/08/oc-sheriff-threatens-to-victimize-an-orange-county-cyclist-a-second-time/

  • Joe Linton

    Something I have been thinking about that I didn’t include in the story. I think this is as much about bicycles as it about YouTube. With the rise of video (in my recollection – circa 1991 – the Rodney King beating) and, even more lately with the ubiquity of visuals on the internet, officers have to cope with the public actually seeing footage. I think that the OCSD is responding to the preponderance of uppity empowered folks (including cyclists) with cellphones, headcams, etc. who are organized (open letters, blogs, annotated videos, etc.) in insisting that law enforcement should do something when incidents are videotaped. I bet some sheriffs would prefer the old days when their word was law… not this complicated crowdsourced brave new world.

  • Jhiggins

    But don.t they use cameras at intersections to catch people running red lights and send them tickets?

  • Jeff

    Guy needs to see a LAWYER, period …

  • LA

    It’s a sad commentary on our police force, and their lack of
    regard for the rights and safety of citizens they are sworn to protect. From
    their logic, I would assume that they can’t do anything about crimes they don’t
    actually witness. This
    seems to leave the door wide open for harassment, theft, assaults, rapes, …

  • Craig Kobayashi

    Not only did Ted Rogers provide an excellent breakdown of the entire situation he may be prescient. If the following review of the OC Sheriff’s Department is to be believed, the OCSD wants to deter the collection of video evidence by cyclists in order to avoid having to investigate any crimes caught on video. That sets a scary precedent if true.

    https://www.facebook.com/apancroft/activity/839980336012465

  • Craig Kobayashi

    Joe, if this review of the OCSD on Facebook is to be believed you might be right: https://www.facebook.com/apancroft/activity/839980336012465

  • Erica_JS

    No, the problem wouldn’t have been gone because that driver would have continued to harass other cyclists. Larsen was trying to get a public menace off the roads and I applaud his courage, precisely for focusing more on public safety than his own.

  • murphstahoe

    Orange County. TX 65-500

    http://www.chp.ca.gov/prog/cheaters.cgi

    Report Vehicles with Out-of-State License Plates to the CHP

  • GetHubNub

    B.S. there’s nothing they can do, they need a good kick in the balls! These slithering stinking evil bastards need to be taken out of uniform and put in eternal hell.

  • GetHubNub

    They’re enemies of God and their balls stink, hang and slither prior to their entry into eternal hell.

  • MattyCiii

    I think the EPA can issue a fine for pollution. An EPA fine is a civil affair – preponderance of the evidence is all that’s needed. I think it’s a four or five figure fine

  • C Monroe

    Yeah, if the ‘Memo’ is true, I smell a scandal brewing…..

  • C Monroe

    Someone said that a relative in the OCSD has seen a ‘memo’ that they are trying to prosecute this guy to discourage others from posting videos and demanding them to do their jobs. Craig below has the source. I have posted on the LA Times website about it and others have posted on many other local news sites to investigate if that memo exists.

  • Hiro Matamoro

    That is not a Texas license plate. I think it may be from Georgia.

  • Chewbacca1066

    Rejoice!

    White trash are dying faster than they can be replaced (like white republicans).

    Everyday more conservatives are taking their last breath.

    Rejoice!

  • Ricky

    Yeah and blacks, Asians, and Mexicans are taking over. Pretty sure white trash is better in America than people who can’t even speak English. Thanks.

  • murphstahoe

    Nothing good about anyone who chucks Gatorade bottles out of windows at other humans. Nothing good about racists for that matter…

  • Lol

    Both of you are idiots.

  • Joe Linton

    If anyone can conclusively tell where that license plate is from, it would be great. I can make out “TRUCK TX 65-500”

  • Joe Linton

    hmmmm – it looks like this one – from Virginia

  • Pierre Avignon

    Exactly what I was thinking.

  • Captain America!

    It’s so sad that so many officers who have sworn to uphold the law show such open contempt for the very law that binds us together as a nation. ~sigh~
    They must *really* hate America.

  • Gerfel Noland

    FTP!

  • Swayne-Leo Hosein-Cadogan

    this is why i ride with a kubaton spike. on my key’s and a monkey fist in my backpack. since the police are going to find me at fault and charge me anyway for some idiotic cager being an asshole. i might as well ensure they aren’t allowed to harm another rider. ah hell even when i’m in my truck and i see other cagers harassing riders i will get involved. i have no qualms about ramming some asshat and disabling his car, if it means a rider is speared the possibility of injury

  • DiamondBackPain

    What in the world is the problem with people minding their own business and just DRIVING by a cyclist on the highway in a bike lane? I don’t understand why cyclists aggravate some drivers? Like this guy.. Who was convicted by the way.. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MF3HNNbQuPU

  • User_1

    “What, we may never know, since the threat of criminal charges will now
    force him to remain silent. Which is probably the real intent.”

    If he chooses to. I would be just as loud or louder in order to make OCSD take a response. Would be rather embarrassing if this REALLY came public, now wouldn’t it?

  • losangelebicycleattorney.com

    A few things:

    It’s important not to get hung up on criminal charges. Larsen still has a civil claim against this driver. The DMV can run this plate. Larsen can obtain his identity and address. And Larsen can sue him and his passenger for intentional infliction of emotional distress. The passenger can be “Doed” (long “O”) in.

    Legal recoveries are obtained through insurance, which doesn’t cover intentional acts. But if the driver doesn’t answer the complaint, (chances are he won’t), Larsen can obtain a default judgment against him and his passenger, which includes legal fees and interest. Even if the driver and passenger continue not to answer, Larsen can petition the DMV (if in-state), to suspend the driver’s license for failure to pay a civil fine. If Larsen seeks less than $7500 in damages in his default, he can file in small claims, which will reduce the cost of filing the complaint, and must be prosecuted without an attorney.

    Admittedly a hassle, but not prohibitive.

    Re any admission of the public use of obscene language, I doubt the OC DA will prosecute such a case, considering the language was used after the bottle was thrown.

  • losangelebicycleattorney.com

    This is SCAQMD jurisdiction.

  • Wulgus

    please kill yourself

  • JSebastian

    Was there any injury? Did the plastic bottle even make contact with the bicyclist?…based on the video there isn’t any evidence that it hit him – he doesn’t make any audible exclamations of surprise or pain. It actually kinda seems like the bottle just hits the front of the bike maybe or even just the ground?

  • AB3

    CA has a Smoking Vehicle Complaint Program to which excesssively polluting vehicles can be reported: https://www.arb.ca.gov/enf/complaints/smoke.htm

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