Grand jury declines to indict NC man seen running over BLM protester in Tennessee

The case against a 27-year-old man from North Carolina seen on video running over a Black Lives Matter protester in a Tennessee crosswalk last year fell through on Monday after a grand jury failed to indict him.

A “no true bill” was returned, meaning the grand jury determined there wasn’t enough evidence to indict.

Jared Benjamin Lafer, from Bakersville, North Carolina, was facing one count of aggravated assault after video shared on social media appeared to show him hit a protester in Johnson City, Tennessee, with his SUV in September 2020. The charge was later reduced to reckless aggravated assault, WJHL reported.

“I just want to thank God and everybody else who supported me,” Lafer told reporters Monday. “I knew from day one that I was not guilty and it took the grand jury — 12 people — to prove that as well.”

Lafer’s defense attorney, Mac Meade, did not immediately respond to McClatchy News’ request for comment on Tuesday.

The case dates to Sept. 12, 2020, when BLM protesters were gathered in downtown Johnson City at the State of Franklin and Spring Street intersection.

Bakersville, where Lafer lives, is about 36 miles southeast of Johnson City just over the North Carolina border.

In a 22-second clip shared on Facebook, a protester is seen standing in front of the hood of a white SUV with North Carolina tags. A yellow crosswalk sign is seen behind him.

The vehicle — which had been stopped — then accelerates, knocking the protester to the ground.

The protester was later identified as Johnathon Bowers, who The Johnson City Press reported broke his right ankle and left knee as a result of the incident.

Meade said Lafer was coming home from dinner in Johnson City with his wife and three kids, saying he was “simply in the wrong place at the wrong time,” WLOS reported.

“This is not a case about racism,” Meade said, according to the TV station. “He did what he felt was necessary to get out of a situation that he felt was dangerous to his family.”

Bowers testified in May that he was walking his dog in the area and taking pictures of the protesters when Lafer first bumped him with his SUV, according to The Johnson City Press.

“Bowers hit the SUV’s hood with his fist to get Lafer’s attention,” the newspaper reported. “But he said Lafer then gunned the vehicle, which ‘sucked’ Bowers under the tires.”

Following the grand jury’s decision Monday, Meade said he filed the paperwork to have the case expunged from Lafer’s record, according to WJHL.

Lafer, meanwhile, posted a statement to his Facebook page saying he is “back stronger then ever.”

“As most of yall(sic) know I was being tried by the state of Johnson City TN on what I believed to be some trumped up charges,” Lafer said. “Well I was right all along. The grand jury decided not to issue a true bill which means they did not feel there was enough evidence to even try me with the alleged charges. I am free and clear as of today.”

*story by The Charlotte Observer