Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on April 7th, 2014 at 1:34 pm
Friday’s story about a woman who was arrested for intentionally driving her car into a man riding a bicycle in downtown Portland raised a lot of eyebrows and emotions.
The Oregonian’s story — which includes photos and a video of the man who was hit — has over 500 comments.
The headline alone is eye-catching enough, but several developments made it an even bigger story. Just a few hours after her arrest, the driver, Julia Geday, was released from custody. It also became known that the man who was on the bike, Brian Groce, has a prior criminal record. Once these facts leaked out into the public they set off a predictable dialogue about who’s worse — people who drive or people who ride. Even our comment thread veered off into the deep end and I had to spend part of my Sunday morning cleaning things up. I eventually closed comments on the story.
I followed up with the District Attorney’s office this morning in order to find out exactly where things stand with the case.
The reason this case was different than most others is that the responding police officers determined at the scene that Geday’s driving behavior was an intentional act meant to harm Groce. Keep in mind that the law says officers only need “probable cause” (or 51% confidence that the person is guilty) in order to make an arrest. The officers on scene Friday made their determination based on versions of the story from both people involved and from a few witnesses who saw it happen.
Geday was charged with assault and booked into jail.
“There are a lot of things that need to be looked at,”
— Don Rees, Multnomah County Chief Deputy DA
Because the collision was deemed an intentional act, the case was turned over to detectives and eventually given to the District Attorney’s office. While police need only probable cause to make an arrest, the DA has to meet a much higher threshold — “beyond a reasonable doubt” — in order to make charges stick and move a case forward. According to the DA’s office, they do not currently have enough information to hold Geday, so she has been let go while the investigation continues.
Chief Deputy DA Don Rees told me this morning that, “The reviewing DA determined that more evidence was needed to create a case that could be proven beyond a reasonable doubt in court.” There could be many factors for this decision. Currently, Geday and Groce tell different versions of what happened and witness statements might be lacking in key details.
Rees said two Portland police detectives have returned to the scene this morning to take photos. They’ll also re-contact witnesses in order to do more in-depth interviews. Meanwhile, the DA’s office will meet with Groce to see if he’d like to formally pursue criminal charges. “There are a lot of things that need to be looked at,” Rees said.
Speaking of Groce, his background adds another layer to this case. Since 2010 he’s been arrested four times, including a serious assault charge involving “unlawful use of a weapon.” Having a prior record doesn’t automatically change the narrative about who might be at fault for the collision. However, if the DA decides to take the case to a Grand Jury, you can bet Groce’s background would hurt his credibility and the case against Geday.
With the investigation ongoing, it could be a week or two before the DA looks at any new information and makes a decision on how — or if — to pursue criminal charges.
While it seemed black and white at first, this case is now in much more of grey area. It should serve as yet another reminder that things are often not what they first seem when it comes to traffic interactions.