No charges have been filed in an altercation between two men after leaving Hover Crossing Wine & Spirits drive-through on Aug. 9 in Longmont, (See News, “A broken nose, a swollen face and no rest,” Aug. 20). The incident garnered widespread community attention and a public rally in support of one of the men, Jorge Rodriguez, an immigrant from Honduras who says the other man, identified as D.K., told him, “Go back to your country, Mexican.”
“It was ultimately a road rage situation and everything played out as it relates to that road rage situation before there’s even an allegation that hate speech or racial epithets were being used,” Christian Gardner-Wood, who led the investigation as director of community protection at the Boulder County District Attorney’s office, says. “Some of the initial impressions that were out there, whether it be through other media outlets or through social media, some of that turned out to be inaccurate or some misperceptions compared to where the investigation ultimately landed.”
In addition to interviews with Rodriguez, D.K. and the woman with D.K. at the time, the DA’s report includes three independent witnesses who are nearby residents, one of whom the police spoke to the same night. The two women Rodriguez says came upon the scene and also yelled racial slurs were difficult to identify and are not part of the investigation, Gardner-Wood says. Although law enforcement believes they know who one of the women is, attempts to contact her both over the phone and at listed addresses were unsuccessful.
Security camera footage from the liquor store and provided by the DA’s office shows Rodriguez blocking the roadway after exiting the drive-through. It then shows another truck, in which D.K. was the passenger, stopping, then making a U-turn to leave, after which Rodriguez accelerates out of the parking lot after the other driver. Both drivers were headed to homes in the area and thus had reason to be on the road, the DA’s report states, but Rodriguez also had several opportunities to turn off 18th street. Once the two vehicles entered the traffic circle at 18th and Spencer streets, the truck carrying D.K. pulled over, followed by Rodriguez’, and both men willingly exited their vehicles, the DA found.
Furthermore, they mutually engaged in a physical altercation, according to the investigation, resulting in a credible claim of self-defense, and thus no charges are being filed for assault. This contradicts early reports that Rodriguez was pulled out of his car.
Hate speech was also not the motivating factor, the investigation found, so no hate crime charges are being filed either.
“The hate speech is ultimately something that is, as deplorable as it is quite frankly, it’s not something that we can just prosecute,” Gardner-Wood says. “We’re not criminalizing speech, we’re not criminalizing people’s thoughts. It’s when that turns into action or that speech or those thoughts motivate actions and motivate criminal behavior,” it can be prosecuted.
“It’s always horrible and horrendous to see the use of racial slurs in an altercation and there’s no excuse for that,” says Jeremy Shaver, senior associate regional director for the Anti-Defamation League Mountain States. Still, under the law, Shaver agrees the altercation was not motivated by racial prejudice or any other type of hatred or bigotry, and thus doesn’t qualify as a hate crime. Statistically, hate instances and hate crimes are on the rise around the state, and he commends Longmont Public Safety and the DA’s office for thoroughly investigating the incident.
“The community did the right thing in demanding it be investigated as a hate crime, law enforcement and the DA did the right thing by investigating it,” says Shaver, who also facilitates Hate Free Colorado, a coalition of 18 community groups as well as law enforcement working to combat and bolster awareness around hate crimes and speech around the state. “At the end of the day, the facts of the case just don’t meet up with the original narrative and that’s unfortunate.”
Some of the confusion came in part by a widely circulated GoFundMe page to support Rodriguez and cover lost income, truck repairs and potentially medical bills. Initially published by the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition (CIRC), the campaign raised close to $24,000, although it has since been deactivated.
“In the heat of the moment, it is so easy for statements to be heightened, so very easy,” Lisa Duran, CIRC’s executive director, says. “And so this constant sort of regrouping and making sure that everything is accurate is super important. And then if you do find that you have overstated something, or misstated something, you have to make it right. And that’s what Jorge did.”
Boulder Weekly’s attempts to reach Rodriguez were unsuccessful before publication.
CIRC, for one, doesn’t believe the full story was captured in the district attorney’s report, both due to lack of eyewitnesses during every point of the altercation as well as potential language barriers. While the organization does acknowledge both Jorge and the other man bear some responsibility for the altercation, “The fact remains that the other individual used racial slurs against Jorge during the conflict, and the blows Jorge suffered exacerbated a pre-existing condition in one of his eyes, leaving him completely blinded in that eye. As a result of this incident, Jorge is still in recovery from his physical injuries,” according to a CIRC statement on the GoFundMe page.
According to CIRC, Rodriguez has pledged to provide a full refund to any donor who requests it, considering the DA’s determination. Anyone requesting a refund must contact CIRC through the GoFundMe page by Oct. 4 to qualify. Duran says that anecdotally she’s heard from several people that want to continue to support Rodriguez and won’t be asking for a refund.
Additionally, Duran says CIRC and other community leaders are continuing to work with Longmont Public Safety and the DA’s office to ensure neutral and professional interpretation services are available any time a non-native English speaker interacts with law enforcement.
“The ability to file a hate crime charge has a high bar, and in community [organizing], we have different needs and different standards than a district attorney would have,” Duran says. “The community’s response is to find the ways that we can move forward productively to make our communities more inclusive of everyone.”