Bakersville man faces aggravated assault charge in connection to hit-and-run of protester


Jared Benjamin Lafer, 27, turned himself in to Johnson City Police on Monday, Sept. 14

Small Image

JOHNSON CITY — A Mitchell County man has turned himself in to Johnson City Police after being identified as the suspect in the hit-and-run of a Black Lives Matter protester in Johnson City on Saturday, Sept. 12. 

Jared Benjamin Lafer, 27, of Rockdale Road in Bakersville, was arrested and charged with one count of aggravated assault after surrendering to authorities at the Washington County Detention Center on Monday, Sept. 14. 

Lafer was released on a $20,000 bond and appeared in court for his arraignment in the Washington County General Sessions on Tuesday, Sept. 15.

Lafer will now have a hearing on Monday, Oct. 26 at 9 a.m. in Washington County, giving Lafer's attorneys a chance to gather more information. He is represented by attorneys Mac Meade and Chris Rogers.

Just after 7 p.m. on Sept. 12, Johnson City Police Department responded to a report of a pedestrian being struck by a vehicle near the West State of Franklin crosswalk, adjacent to Spring Street. 

Cellphone video from the scene, which quickly made its way around social media, shows two demonstrators in a crosswalk being struck by a white SUV. After hitting the victims, the SUV is seen speeding out of frame. 

One victim can be seen still on the ground as the vehicle speeds off. The demonstrator, a 31-year-old male, was taken to Johnson City Medical Center and treated for non-life-threatening injuries.

The other victim, a 26-year-old female, did not suffer injuries requiring medical treatment. 

Meade stood beside Lafer and Rogers outside of the courthouse after the arraignment hearing on Tuesday, Sept. 15 and addressed the media for a short time. 

Meade confirmed that Lafer was in Johnson City to have dinner with relatives who were in town from Florida, adding that he was with his entire family in the vehicle, including his wife and three kids.

"This is not a case about racism," Meade said. "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. He did what he felt was necessary to get out of a situation he felt was dangerous to his family."  

Meade acknowledged that he is familiar with the claims that protesters were "beating" on Lafer's car before the video clip begins that shows the protesters being hit.

"That evidence is going to come into light in the coming weeks and months," Meade said. 

Johnson City Police Captain Kevin Peters announced after the initial incident that a white Ford Expedition with North Carolina tags had been identified as a vehicle of interest. The JCPD used witness videos and accounts, traffic camera footage and footage from cameras from surrounding businesses to identify Lafer as a person of interest.

The assault sparked another wave of protests in Johnson City on Sunday, Sept. 13. Several dozen protestors from a Johnson City-based Black Lives Matter group called New Panther Initiative marched through Johnson City, with several stopping for some time at the intersection where the incident occurred.

A online fundraiser has been organized to cover medical expenses for the protester hospitalized. Organized by Victoria Grace Hewlett, the fundraiser has a goal of $5,000. 

As of Tuesday, Sept. 15, 140 donors had combined to raise more than $4,200. 

Lafer's professional LinkedIn page, which has since been deleted, and the Coldwell Banker King website listed him as a real estate broker at Coldwell Banker King. 

Coldwell Banker released an official statement on Tuesday, Sept. 14 confirming that Lafer is no longer connected to the company. 

"Lafer was an independent contractor with Coldwell Banker King," the statement read. "He is no longer affiliated with our company. We have no relationship with Jared Lafer."