By Tim Gardner
An attorney for a North Carolina High Country man charged with running over a Black Lives Matter supporter last weekend said his client was scared for himself and his family when he encountered marchers at a downtown Johnson City, TN intersection.
Jared Benjamin Lafer, 27, of Bakersville, NC appeared in Washington County, TN General Sessions Court September 15 for arraignment on an aggravated assault charge. His attorneys, Mac Meade and Chris Rogers, asked Judge Robert Lincoln for a status hearing date to allow them time to investigate what happened last Saturday night (September 12).
It was then that a cellphone video posted to social media showed a white Ford Expedition accelerating into two demonstrators who were standing in a crosswalk in front of the vehicle near the intersection of West State of Franklin Road and Spring Street. According to protesters and police, the vehicle then left the scene.
Meade stated that his client was in Johnson City to have dinner with relatives when the encounter happened.
“This is not about racism,” Meade said in a Johnson City Press newspaper article. “It’s a case about a man who found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time, faced with what he perceived as a dangerous situation. His entire family — his wife and three young kids under the age of 6 were all in the car with him — and he thought it was necessary to get out of a situation that was dangerous to his family.”
The victim, a 31-year-old Johnson City man, was taken to Johnson City Medical Center for treatment. A second victim, a 26-year-old Johnson City woman, was struck by the vehicle but did not have injuries requiring treatment.
A Johnson City police report listed nine witnesses to the incident.
One witness, Brent Chaffin, posted another witness’ video on the Social Media Facebook site. Chaffin, one of the protest organizers, said demonstrators were marching when they stopped to demonstrate on either side of a crosswalk near the intersection.
According to reports, the video footage does not show what led up to the incident. But Chaffin alleged it began when the driver reportedly began inching forward, trying to get past the demonstrators. The video shows at least two people standing in front of the vehicle before it moved forward and struck them, appearing to run over at least one. The video also reportedly captured the license plate on the vehicle, which was later confirmed to belong to Lafer.
Chaffin also alleged that Lafer drove away without checking about the welfare of the victims.
Lafer turned himself in at the Washington County Detention Center on Monday and was released on a $20,000 bond.
His next court appearance was set for October 26 in Washington County.