On Aug. 3, 2012, Justin Wilkens was speeding in his Aprilia motorcycle and unwittingly passed Oregon State Police Officer Rob Edwards in an unmarked cop Camaro. After a few minutes of chase, Edwards rammed Wilkens off the bike, pulled a gun on him and kicked him in the chest. If you think that sounds egregious, the jury agreed with you.
Dash cam footage from Edwards’ Camaro shows Wilkens’ motorcycle running hard and fast on what the Register-Guard identifies as Crow Road near the town of Veneta, Oregon. The bike is obviously speeding and passes at least two cars across double-yellow (no passing-zone) lines.
TheNewspaper.com says Edwards had his red-and-blue police lights on in the Camaro, but not a siren. The officer would testify he believed the biker was trying to elude him, but Wilkens asserted he didn’t realize he was being chased and “had never seen a black Camaro cop car before.”
I’ve never seen a police car quite like that either, and as you can see from TheNewspaper.com’s photograph of the vehicles the Camaro is pretty indistinguishable from a civilian car. Even the license plates look standard.
Edwards chased him all the way to an intersection, at which point Wilkens appears to begin pulling over. Look at the biker’s body language at about 3:31; you can almost hear him saying “Ah, shit,” inside his helmet as he looks in the bike’s left mirror and realizes that’s a cop behind him.
As you can see from there; the police car hits the bike, knocking Wilkens to the ground. Edwards maintained this was unintentional; a result of “brake fade” from the Camaro’s discs being overworked. His assessment, not mine, which was basically shot down by Wilkens’ attorney.
As the biker stood up, Edwards enters frame with a kick to Wilkens’ chest while drawing down on him with his pistol before cuffing him.
Among Wilkens’ injuries were “a broken clavicle and fractured rib.”
In an interesting plot twist, Edwards stated he did not know the police car’s dashcam was running.
After being apprehended, Wilkens brought an excessive-force claim against Edwards. As explained by local news, a jury of eight people “awarded Wilkens more than $31,000 in economic damages to reimburse his medical expenses and motorcycle repair bills; $100,000 in noneconomic damages for his injuries, pain and suffering; and $50,000 in punitive damages,” which Edwards will be forced to pay.
Local news says Edwards has been an Oregon State Trooper for 22 years and held the rank of lieutenant when this incident went down, having since been promoted to captain. He was apparently reprimanded by his superiors for “neglecting to report his use of force against Wilkens” but not cited for excessive force.
After the verdict, the Oregon State Police released a statement as reported by the Register-Guard, saying their office “is disappointed with the (trial) outcome and feels the actions of our troopers clearly did not violate established procedures or tactics. In situations like these, officers have milliseconds to make what may be life-or-death decisions and those officers should be shielded from the liability of civil damages.”
You’ve seen what happened, read the analysis and now you know a jury has ruled in favor of the biker to the tune of getting reimbursed for his injuries an inconvenience plus $50,000 in apology money. Let’s look at both sides of the story one more time, as presented by local news cited above:
- Admitted he was speeding.
- Maintained he didn’t realize the Camaro was a cop car.
- Said he pulled over as soon as he did realize the Camaro was a cop car.
- Thinks getting his bike rammed and a gun pointed at him, not to mention a strong kick to the chest was an excessively aggressive response to a speeder.
- Says he thought the biker was trying to elude him.
- Did not realize his camera was running.
- Had running lights, but no siren.
- Maintained his actions were “in line with state police policies and training.”
- Didn’t mean to ram the bike.
- “Acknowledged in his testimony that Wilkens had begun to comply with his commands when he landed the kick, but said he was unable to stop the kick because he ‘already had the muscles fired’ in his right leg.”
Trooper Edwards’ methods were deemed excessively forceful, and as a result he’ll spend much of the rest of his life quite literally paying for his actions.
In case you want my opinion, it looks to me like the ramming was for sure intentional. By the time the Camaro bumped the bike, both vehicles were moving slowly. Brake fade? At that speed the car could have stopped before hitting the bike even if it’d just done a lap around Laguna Seca. Same goes for the kung-fu kick; if Wilkens had been a combatant perp, that ninja stunt have been a great opportunity to grab the cop’s leg send him to the ground.
But what really upsets me about this cop’s conduct is the way he holds his handgun.
Besides the fact that I can’t see a reason for a gun to be drawn on a suspect this compliant, what kind of pew-pew-pew playcop bullshit is that grip?
Maybe Edwards is good enough to shoot one-handed. But if he pulls that trigger it sure looks like the pistol’s recoil will slap him directly in the face while a hot shell ejects toward his eye. I’ll give him credit for keeping his pointer finger out of the trigger enclosure but I find this casual gun-waving stance extremely disturbing.
“I’m just happy as heck,” Wilkens told the Register-Guard. Captain Edwards declined to comment.
Okay, your turn. Was justice served here or what?
Images via TheNewspaper.com, the Register-Guard.
Contact the author at email@example.com.