Woman assaulted after driving into protest, some claim driver acted intentionally

Investigators in Santa Rosa were working Sunday to sort out an incident in which a woman drove an SUV into a group of protesters, after which her vehicle was vandalized and she was punched in the face, police said.

Police were called about 9:20 p.m. Saturday to Sonoma Avenue near Brookwood Avenue, where a woman said her SUV had been vandalized by protesters involved in the "Santa Rosa 24-Hour Protest of Peace and Justice," and that she had been punched in the face

At about the same time, police said, they got calls several protesters at that event reporting a white SUV had just driven recklessly through the crowd there, and that some protesters may have been hit by the vehicle.

The SUV's driver told police she had just gotten off her shift as a nurse at a local hospital, that it was dark on Sonoma Avenue, and that she suddenly came upon a large crowd of people. The driver told she pulled over as far to the right of the roadway as possible, thinking the crowd would let her through. But she said that she was blocked by protesters, one of threw a skateboard and a bicycle at her vehicle, shattering her windshield. 

The woman told police she didn't know how fast she drove away from the crowd, but that one person followed her on a bicycle. When the driver then stopped away from the crowd, the bicyclist approached her vehicle and punched her in the face. The bicyclist was described as a white man in his 20s, with a bald head and tattoos on his face and arms. A bystander tried to chase the suspect as he rode away, police said, but could not catch up to him.

Meanwhile, Santa Rosa officers were meeting with several protesters who believed the SUV driver intentionally drove through the crowd. Accounts varied as to how fast the SUV was moving.'

Several protesters provided video footage of the incident to police, which show the protesters taking over all lanes of traffic on Sonoma Avenue, heading east. In the videos, it is clear that as the white SUV approached the crowd, several people were yelling profanities at the driver. At one point, protesters surround the vehicle and the vehicle is struck by a skateboard and several unknown objects. Police said there is no indication from the videos that the driver was trying to run over protesters on purpose. The videos do show the driver trying "to accelerate somewhat away from the crowd," police said.

As of late Sunday afternoon, Santa Rosa police have not been contacted by anyone who said they were struck by the white SUV. The suspect who assaulted the driver has not been apprehended. 

Police continue to investigate, and anyone with information about this incident involving the vehicle or with information on the suspect who assaulted the driver, is asked to call Santa Rosa police at (707) 528-5222.