By Tim Gardner
A Washington County, TN grand jury will not send a case to court that accused Jared Benjamin Lafer, 27, of the Bakersville Township in Mitchell County, NC, of striking a Black Lives Matter protester in Johnson City with his car in September 2020.
According to court documents, a No True Bill was issued by the grand jury, meaning no charges were filed against Lafer and as a result, the case is dropped and will not be further pursued in court.
Lafer’s attorney, Mac Meade, of Johnson City said he was pleased with the outcome of the court proceeding on Monday, September 27, and he offered comments to the High Country Press about the dismissal: “We always had great confidence that once we had a trial on the matter, that the jury would return a, ‘not guilty,’ for Mr. Lafer in his situation. And thanks to the hard work of the staff and the attorneys at Meade Law Group, we kept the charges from being filed. Having a no true bill issued by a grand jury is a big deal, and it’s a rare deal. It doesn’t happen accidentally.”
Lafer maintained his innocence throughout the court case and remarked during an interview on WJHL Television Station of Johnson City: “I want to thank God and everybody who supported me. I knew from day one that I was not guilty, and it took the grand jury — 12 people — to prove that as well.”
Meade added that his law firm has filed expungement paperwork to completely exonerate Lafer.
“Within a few weeks, Mr. Lafer can say that he’s never been charged with or convicted of any crime,” Meade said.
A previous court session in Washington County revealed the protester, Johnathon Bowers, had sustained two broken legs, a concussion and a brain bleed from the hit-and-run.
The incident happened amid a myriad of civil rights protests nationwide following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, MN by law enforcement officers.
Lafer turned himself in to police shortly after the incident, and was released after posting a $20,000 bond. His aggravated assault charge was later reduced to a reckless aggravated assault in a May 2021 court session.
Victoria Hewlett witnessed the incident between Bowers and Lafer, also she also filmed it from her vehicle.
Hewlett said on WJCL Television that the No True Bill by the grand jury was “outrageous.”
She further commented during the television interview: “There’s so many things wrong with this, and it sets a terrible precedent for the future of hate crimes. It highlights the lack of justice in the justice system that happens so much.”
During a previous court proceeding, Bowers said Lafer could have gone in a different direction instead of hitting him. Lafer reportedly was in the region for a dinner date with relatives when he drove up upon a group of Black Lives Matter protestors. Lafer apparently hit Bowers with his SUV when he turned right toward the highway.
Bowers said Lafer kept going and the vehicle “sucked” him under the tires. Bowers maintained that he was at the protest to walk his dog and take photographs. But Meade, indicated then that Bowers’ comments concerning his involvement with the protest have not been consistent.
Meade contends that his client feared for his safety and the safety of his family which included three children under the age of six who were in his vehicle at the time of the protest.
Later in that previous hearing after a recess, Major Larry Denny of the Washington County Sheriff’s Department testified that he saw eyewitness Hannah Reid and Elijah Gilmer, another witness who had not testified at the time, leave the courtroom together and confer, before returning back to the courtroom.
Witnesses in the case took oaths to not speak of the case outside of court.
Then Presiding Judge Janet Hardin gave Reid and Gilmer a chance to speak about the incident and both declined. Gilmer stated that he was “not clear,” so he would not answer something he isn’t sure about. Reid said she preferred to remain silent.
Judge Hardin reduced Lafer’s charge from aggravated assault to reckless aggravated assault after hearing Bowers’ testimony, dropping the charge from a Class C to a Class D felony.
Meade and co-counsel Chris Rogers said they were pleased with Judge Hardin’s decision to reduce the charge against Lafer and indicated then they would consider potential contempt cases against the two witnesses who allegedly conferred during court recess.
Meade said he isn’t sure if contempt cases would be pursued by the District Attorney’s office with jurisdiction in Washington County.