A White Iowa man who intentionally plowed his car into a crowd of Black Lives Matter protesters in August last year – reportedly injuring at least one person – will not be sentenced to prison and will also have his criminal record expunged if he doesn’t get into any trouble over the next three years.
According to USA Today, 45-year-old Michael Ray Stepanek was charged with one count of assault while displaying a dangerous weapon, an aggravated misdemeanor, and one count of willful injury causing bodily harm following the incident. He spent 76 days in jail.
Stepanek had initially justified his actions and reportedly told the police he drove his Toyota Camry into the protesters because they needed an “attitude adjustment.” In December, however, a district court judge moved to dismiss the first charge and also defer the second one. A $1,025 civil fine that was imposed on him was also suspended by the judge.
Per a criminal complaint of the incident, Stepanek got stuck in a hold-up together with other vehicles as the protestors had taken over the road. He then started “honking, and eventually making a U-turn while squealing his tires to turn around,” USA Today reported.
The complaint further stated Stepanek “shut off his lights, and drove around the block, where he chose to turn southbound … where there were no vehicles between him and the protesters. The defendant intentionally struck multiple protesters with his vehicle and sped away.”
The incident left at least one person injured, with the victim complaining of “pain due to being struck intentionally by the defendant’s vehicle,” the police said.
Responding to the incident and the judge’s ruling, John W. Bruzek, Stepanek’s lawyer, said his client was “remorseful” and his actions were spurred as a result of him being “inundated” with “propaganda” that labeled the Black Lives Matter protesters as “criminal, thugs, terrorists.”
“He apologizes for his conduct and to those he harmed. Michael is being held to account with a full and clear recognition of how much worse things may have been,” Bruzek said in the statement. “The court gave Michael an opportunity to prove himself during a statutory term of probation and expects him to be a decent person and that he not conduct himself like he did. If Michael doesn’t, the court will have the opportunity to convict him and take away the deferred.”
The plea deal was struck between Stepanek and the Johnson County Attorney’s Office. The department could, however, possibly be called out for double standards as prosecutors are currently pursuing charges against some Black Lives Matter protesters who partook in the demonstrations over the summer, Time reported.
“I can’t believe there’d be someone who hates the organization so much that they’d be willing to possibly kill people just because they’re blocking the road,” a student who witnessed the incident and recorded it told USA Today. “It is all crazy now that’s he’s not getting in very much trouble or anything.”
In what was a summer of racial reckoning triggered by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the largely peaceful protests during that period also saw over a hundred incidents of people – including Stepanek – driving their cars into protestors. A terrorism researcher at the University of Chicago’s Project on Security and Threats, Ari Weil, told the news outlet that out of the 104 incidents he recorded, 43 were intentional and meant to cause harm. Thirty-nine drivers were charged for those incidents.