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Phoenix mayor cleared in Medford Black Lives Matter altercation

Phoenix Mayor Chris Luz will not face criminal charges for brushing a protester with his slow-moving car during a Black Lives Matter rally in downtown Medford.

On June 1, demonstrator Mikala Johnston alleged the mayor struck her hip with his car when he was driving past, but Jackson County District Attorney Beth Heckert said there is “no evidence indicating Mr. Luz knew or should have reasonably known that he had ‘injured’ anyone.”

Medford police and Heckert reviewed a YouTube video that showed Johnston and other protesters in a downtown street, Heckert said in a Friday press release.

Luz, who was stopped in traffic, was driving a yellow Ford Fusion. At speeds slower than the pace of marchers, the mayor brushed Johnston’s hip with the vehicle’s front quarter panel and side mirror, according to Heckert.

Johnston marched in front of Luz a second time and joined with other protesters to prevent the mayor from moving, and at least one demonstrator jumped on the hood of the mayor’s car.

During the altercation, Heckert said, other protesters yelled to let Luz’s car go through and keep marching, Heckert said.

When reached by phone, Luz said he had just returned from an oil change when he found himself as one of multiple motorists caught in the middle of the downtown Medford rally.

“It wasn’t my intention to be there,” he said.

Luz added that he believes “peaceful protests are essential for our democracy” and that he fully supports “residents speaking out against racism and hatred,” Luz said by phone and in an email statement.

The incident sparked one Phoenix city councilor to call for the mayor to resign, and it became national news after The Washington Post wrote about the incident.

Luz declined to comment about being the subject of a national news story, other than to say some outlets didn’t accurately capture what happened.

“A lot of the headlines are so erroneous — people just didn’t do their homework,” he said.

The night of the rally, however, Luz apparently had no knowledge that he’d struck a pedestrian, according to an online police report submitted to Medford police and the Jackson County DA’s office.

“Troublemakers blocked the street and blocked my car,” Luz wrote in the online report. “One guy jumped on the hood two times.”

Luz told police that as he was driving, demonstrators started on the sidewalk and moved into the street, and that he traveled very slowly trying to get through the area.

“He was focused on the crowds and the person who jumped on his car,” Heckert wrote. “He was not aware that his car brushed the protester.”

Under Oregon law, the felony crime of failing to perform the duties of a driver to an injured person occurs in incidents where a driver causes injury and leaves the scene.

In this case, however, Johnston did not appear to be injured.

Medford police submitted reports supporting a felony charge of riot and misdemeanor charges of second-degree disorderly conduct and third-degree criminal mischief against Johnston.

Heckert, however, said that although evidence supports a misdemeanor disorderly conduct charge against Johnston, there were “many people” obstructing traffic during the incident.

“To isolate and charge only Mikala Johnston, or others who were identified through this investigation, is not appropriate,” Heckert wrote.

Heckert further commended Medford police, saying they did an “excellent job” keeping the June 1 protests peaceful. She said police intervened when necessary, but did not investigate and cite other individuals for obstructing traffic.

Three other people still have pending felony charges accusing them of pulling guns on Black Lives Matter supporters June 1 and June 6.

David Robert Westmoreland, 51, of Central Point is charged with two felony counts of unlawful use of a weapon and a misdemeanor charge of menacing after he pulled a gun on a crowd that included demonstrators and a Mail Tribune reporter covering the rally June 1 near the intersection of Ninth Street and Central Avenue.

Christopher Ryan Biggs, 38, of White City is charged with first-degree bias crime, unlawful use of a weapon and misdemeanor counts of menacing and recklessly endangering another person for a June 1 incident with protesters.

Marcella Rene Welch, 55, of Medford is charged with one felony count of unlawful use of a weapon and one misdemeanor count of menacing for pulling a gun on demonstrators June 6 during an altercation captured on video.

Westmoreland and Welch will appear in court on the grand jury’s charges Aug. 19, Jackson County Circuit Court records show. Court records on Biggs’ case was not immediately available at press time.

Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MTCrimeBeat.

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