On behalf of the cycling community in and around Santa Fe, Bike Santa Fe would like to articulate some concerns we have with the investigation of the recent incident on N.M. 41 near Galisteo.
There is a chronic institutional bias on the part of law enforcement and the courts against cyclists (and some would include pedestrians) in favor of motorists. We know this through long experience. Unfortunately, the response of the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Deputy at the scene of this incident perpetuates that bias.
The cyclists in this case were riding within all applicable laws. According to media reports, Jacob Brown admitted to “slamming the brakes” and intentionally backing into the path of oncoming cyclists. He then left the scene, which is commonly charged as a felony if there are injuries at the scene, which was clearly the case in this incident. The Sheriff’s Deputy apprehended, then “escorted” Mr. Brown back to the scene, but did not charge him with leaving the scene or any other crime. Despite his own admission of intentionally backing into the path of the group of cyclists, Mr. Brown was cited only for stopping on a highway.
Mr. Brown’s claim that the cyclists “flipped him off” is entirely irrelevant. Even if the cyclists had done so, which is in dispute, that doesn’t in the slightest justify Mr. Brown’s actions. There are no gestures or words that could possibly justify such actions on the part of any driver.
It is also irrelevant that Mr. Brown claims to have stopped just before the cyclists impacted the back of his car. Mr. Brown’s actions, by his own admission, resulted in the grievous bodily injury of at least one cyclist, and lesser injuries, but still requiring professional medical attention, to others. Had he simply continued on his way, there would have been no incident, no injuries.
Sheriff Garcia and District Attorney Serna now have an opportunity (one hopes a unique opportunity) to:
1. Lead, by example, other law enforcement agencies and prosecutors in applying the law fully and fairly.
2. Educate the public that cyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as all other vehicle operators on public roads. They have the right to be on the road, just as any other road user, without willful endangerment, encroachment, or harassment, and must be accommodated as any other slow-moving vehicle (e.g., a backhoe or tractor).
We do not presume to be experts in law enforcement and would not deign to dictate to law enforcement officers or prosecutors how to do their jobs. However, Mr. Brown, through his own admission, has committed at least two felonies: aggravated battery with a deadly weapon and leaving the scene of a crash with injuries.
We demand that the Santa Fe County sheriff and the district attorney apply the law fully and without bias. Mr. Brown, and other drivers who behave similarly, must be held accountable to the extent the law allows.
Schiffmiller is president of Bike Santa Fe, a bicycling advocacy group.