SALT LAKE CITY — Was it a hand wave or a middle finger? Did the bicyclist say "thank you" or something derogatory?
These are issues that are raised in a federal lawsuit filed Friday by a bicyclist who claims a Unified police officer ran him over because he mistakenly thought the cyclist had flipped him off.
Chad S. Lockwood, 53, said he was riding his bicycle about 10:35 a.m. Sunday in the Millcreek area near 2300 E. Evergreen Ave. (3435 South).
According to the lawsuit, "Chad switched from the south side of Evergreen to the north side, with the intent of riding through the green light ahead of him on 2300 East, and riding on a bike path on the north side of Evergreen Avenue. Chad rode through the crosswalk area for pedestrians and proceeded through the intersection safely."
Unified police officer Christopher Schroeder was stopped at a red light at the intersection and "appeared to be waiting for Chad to cross and waved at him," the lawsuit states. Lockwood waved back. But because of a prior accident that left him with a deformed hand, Lockwood contends the officer mistook his wave for an obscene gesture.
Lockwood also said he said "thank you," to the officer. But Salt Lake County Sheriff Rosie Rivera said that according to the officer's report, Lockwood said something similar but vulgar. She said the officer's report does not mention anything about a hand gesture.
About 200 feet down the road, Lockwood claims Schroeder pulled up next to him with his patrol car. The next thing Lockwood remembers is being knocked to the ground and the officer out of his car and on top of him, the lawsuit states.
"It was the most shocking thing I’ve ever experienced in my life,” Lockwood said Friday. "That just doesn’t happen. … I was in no way a danger."
Rivera said her officer had turned on his overhead lights, but Lockwood kept going, and then resisted arrest once Schroeder got out of his patrol car. Lockwood crashed when he hit the curb of the sidewalk, according to police.
When Lockwood asked the officer why he hit him, Lockwood said the officer replied, "Bro, you hit the curb and fell off your bike," the lawsuit states.
But Lockwood insists he did not hit the curb. He contends that he was wearing headphones and did not purposely ignore the officer, but Schroeder used his patrol car to perform something similar to a PIT manuever on him, knocking him to the ground. And then, he said the 6-foot, 300-pound officer "pounced" on him and hit him because he wouldn't put his hands behind his back.
"You’re breaking me, you’re breaking me, I’m handicapped," Lockwood said he screamed. "'Please, I’ll do anything you say, just get me up, help me.' And there was no having it."
An accident with a train 20 years ago resulted in Lockwood receiving a metal plate in his arm. He said he wasn't resisting arrest, he just could not physically move his arms the way the officer wanted him to, or get himself off the ground.
"I got hit by a train in ’96 and this was by far worse,” he said of the officer landing on him. "He said, ‘You should have stopped.'"
Rivera is backing her officer.
"I’ve read the report, and I stand by my officer. Unless you have some evidence to tell me anything different, I would back my officer in this situation,” she said. "Just because an officer is large doesn’t mean it’s excessive force because they are large. He was doing what he needed to do to take him into custody."
Lockwood and his attorney contend that Schroeder used excessive force by using his patrol car to stop the bicycle.
"He did it on purpose for sure because I ignored him completely and he was upset,” Lockwood said.
After being treated for his injuries at a local hospital, Lockwood and Sykes contend Lockwood was booked into the Salt Lake County Jail for investigation of charges related to the incident. Rivera said he was only booked on outstanding warrants. He was released the same day due to jail overcrowding, according to jail records. Rivera said that her officer has forwarded evidence to the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office to be screened for potential charges, including resisting arrest, failing to obey the command of an officer and running a red light.
The warrants were for misdemeanor charges of criminal mischief regarding an ongoing dispute Lockwood is having with his neighbor, according to charging documents. There was also a warrant out for his arrest for failing to appear in court for a speeding ticket, according to court records.
Lockwood claims Schroeder also tried to arrest him for having a stolen bicycle and heroin possession. Rivera said officers are screening possible charges of drug possession, but not for heroin. And the VIN on the bike did initially come back as being stolen out of Arizona, she said, so the officer had to sort that out.
Lockwood admits he may have ran a red light and drove against traffic on his bicycle, but said that did not justify how he was treated.
"There’s just no reason for the excessive force," he said. "There’s just no maybe. He was wrong, about everything."
"The reality of what happened in this case is that officer Schroeder lost his temper because he probably believed, incorrectly, that Chad had disrespected him by 'flipping him off,' and mouthing a vulgar expletive." the lawsuit says. "Although this did not happen, and what Chad did was quite innocent and considerate, officer Schroeder lost his temper, chased down Chad with his police vehicle and intentionally struck Chad and his bicycle with his vehicle in order to teach Chad a lesson in respect for police officers."
The sheriff noted that the officer remains on active duty, but she said she has asked internal affairs to take a look at the case.
The Unified Police Department does not equip all of its officers with body cameras. Rivera said there was no body camera or dashcam video of the incident.
Rivera said she didn't hear about any of the allegations until Sykes' press conference was announced. She also finds it disconcerting that a lawsuit was filed so quickly.
"For an attorney to be able to file a federal lawsuit within five days of an incident, we have not had enough time to even take a look at it,” she said.
"They have never contacted me. They have never contacted our internal affairs or the chief or the chief over the precinct that he works. So this is the first opportunity we’ve even had to take a look at the case. And that’s what’s kind of frustrating is that anyone can go file a lawsuit and bad-mouth an officer and say things an officer did without actually giving us an opportunity to take a look at the case," she said.
"If the officer did do something inappropriate or used excessive force, he will be held accountable. But we need the opportunity to take a look at it and he needs to be treated fairly. And that’s what frustrated me, too. In society nowadays, anyone can say anything about police."