Biker Down – Where there is no reasonable prospect for conviction…

…the charges will be dropped.

The Crown has withdrawn charges against former Ontario attorney-general Michael Bryant in the death of a cyclist.

Mr. Bryant was charged last September with criminal negligence causing death and dangerous driving in the death of bike courier Darcy Allan Sheppard.

theglobeandmail.com.

Lonely in here, ain’t it? That’s because it’s just us. (get it? justice. just us. awesome.)

I wrote about the incident back when it had first occurred, back in September of last year: drunkcyclist.com/2009/09/02/email-dump-on-the-ag-tip.

This article from the same time period provides a refresher of what witnesses to the event claimed to have seen:

The fatal crash is the result of an apparent altercation that took place between a motorist and a cyclist over several blocks along Bloor Street, from Bay Street west to Avenue Road, just before 10 p.m.

Words were first exchanged, then at some point, the black Saab convertible and the bicycle bumped. Things escalated from there. For reasons that aren’t yet clear, the victim grabbed the side of the car and wouldn’t let go.

“What I saw was the car speeding up the wrong side of the road, with the injured man on the driver’s side of the car holding on as tight as he could,” witness Ryan Brazeau said. “And then the driver of the car pushing up against the curb, trying to knock him off on the poles as he went down the opposite side of the road.”

Another witness said Sheppard hit a mailbox then the road. The back tires then ran over him.

toronto.ctv.ca.

If that isn’t a perfectly clear description of completely indefensible behavior by the operator of a motor vehicle, I don’t know what is.

[I]n order to be found responsible for dangerous driving a defendant’s conduct must be a “marked departure” from reasonably prudent driving standards. The clearly threatening behaviour [sic] of Mr. Sheppard, and the fear and exposure Mr. Bryant and his wife felt, were factored into the Crown’s decision that no criminal liability could be found.

Police have said the Aug. 31 incident began with a minor collision between Mr. Bryant and Mr. Sheppard on a busy downtown street which resulted in Mr. Sheppard grabbing onto the side of a car.

Mr. Sheppard then fell under the vehicle, suffering fatal injuries.

theglobeandmail.com.

Is it “reasonably prudent” to cross the roadway, in the oncoming lanes, with a man hanging on to the side of your car, and to drive against steel poles and a mailbox fastened to the concrete sidewalk in what can only be described as an attempt to scrape that man from your car?

Such conduct is clearly not “reasonably prudent.” It is brutal. It is contemptible. It should be universally condemned.

In a lengthy address to the court Tuesday, Mr. Peck said Mr. Sheppard had about twice the legal limit of alcohol in his blood according to the post-mortem [sic] toxicology test.

He also provided details of other incidents between Sheppard and drivers, four of which happened the same month as the Bryant incident.

“The evidence establishes that Mr. Sheppard was the aggressor in the altercation,” Mr. Peck’s executive summary reads

. . . The clearly threatening behaviour [sic] of Mr. Sheppard, and the fear and exposure Mr. Bryant and his wife felt, were factored into the Crown’s decision that no criminal liability could be found.

Id.

I do not pretend to be well versed in the particularities of criminal law in our Great Northern Neighbor, or any nation’s laws really (read – I am not yet an attorney). Essentially, I see two general issues, contributory negligence 1 and self defense 2. The latter may excuse liability entirely, and the former may reduce it by a percentage based on the victim’s “contribution” to the injurious event (i.e., the victim “shares” in fault). I don’t know, however, how either fits into an analysis of whether or not to bring a criminal matter to trial. Both are defenses asserted at trial. Charging a matter criminally is, generally speaking, an analysis of whether the defendant’s conduct meets the elements of the relevant criminal statute. It feels as though the Crown put the cart before the donkey, reaching their conclusion first and then justifying it later. (I should note the use of Wikipedia links is to provide a general background for the concepts, not the relevant law in the particular jurisdiction.)

Owen Young, a bicycle courier for the past six years, said he fears Mr. Bryant’s acquittal will mean “it’s open season on cyclists.” He said the former attorney general should have acknowledged his role in the events that led to Mr. Sheppard’s death.

“He has to take some responsibility because there’s a man who is dead,” Mr. Young said outside the courthouse. “It doesn’t matter if he’s a courier, a cyclist or somebody on the street; there’s still one person on the face of the Earth who’s not here because of the man inside there today.”

Id.

Mr. Young has it exactly right. A man is dead. A son is without a father.

Has justice been served?

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About big jonny

The man, the legend. The guy who started it all back in the Year of Our Lord Beer, 2000, with a couple of pages worth of idiotic ranting hardcoded on some random porn site that would host anything you uploaded, a book called HTML for Dummies (which was completely appropriate), a bad attitude (which hasn’t much changed), and a Dell desktop running Win95 with 64 mgs of ram and a six gig hard drive. Those were the days. Then he went to law school. Go figure. Flagstaff, Arizona, USA

22 thoughts on “Biker Down – Where there is no reasonable prospect for conviction…

  1. There is no such thing as a “minor collision” when it’s bike vs. car. Care to weigh in on that, Jonny?

    And as far as I’m concerned, if the Saab jockey is found dead in a dumpster or somesuch, all y’all were at my house playing pinochle.

    Jesus, where’s Spike Bike when you need him?

  2. I’m usually with the cyclists on these things – but not this one.

    “An hour before the incident on Bloor, Mr. Sheppard was involved in another incident at his girlfriend’s residence where he showed up having been drinking (there seems to be some qestion (sic) as to whether he was drunk) and apparently caused enough of a ruckus to warrant police presence. Friends who heard of his passing said things were looking up for the man who had had some rough patches, saying that things were improving for him “just last week”. Yup – looks that way. You’ll forgive me if, not knowing the man personally and knowing only his criminal and alcohol-related issues, I hesitate to put a halo on him and brand him the upstanding victim in the Bloor Street incident.”

    From http://philipsullivan.blogspot.com/2009/09/michael-bryant-vs-cyclist-darcy.html

    Dave

  3. …having been born in toronto & yet having spent the majority of my life in california, i’m usually able to take silent pride in how canadian’s conduct their affairs…

    …here, i’m absolutely appalled…talk about “making a case” to fit a favored scenario…

    …this isn’t criminal negligence & dangerous driving resulting in accidental death, this is aggravated assault using a vehicle as a weapon resulting in an extreme death but because the young former ontario attorney-general was a rising star in canadian politics, he gets a fucking bye ???…wtf ???…

    …by all accounts from what i read at the time, the deceased was somewhat of a problematic douche, bicycle or no, but nowhere does there appear to be anything “extreme” as regards his past behavior…he was a human being & a father…& nothing in his past regarding “bad judgment” comes close to the “bad judgment” exercised by the former a-g…

    …there is no way in the world that this ruling can be justified other than to recognize amazing favoritism by the crown & a lotta bold faced, deceitful lying by all parties involved…

    …<i?"oh, canada, glorious & free"…go fuck yourself…

  4. …check out the link gianni grande posted…theglobeandmail.com site…read the dismissal article & then listen to the interview by the smarmy (in my opinion) michael bryant…

    …he sounds like he believes everything he says & in which case that makes this even more of a tragedy…

    ..what i got out of his interview is “blah, blah, blah…i stepped in some shit but i thank family, friends & the powers that be for helping me scuff it of my shoe because that is truly the righteous way of dealing w/ this situation…unfortunately, my wife & i will always have that bit of stink on my sole to deal with, blah, blah, blah”

  5. Even if the ‘selfdefense’ defense is valid, I think there are limitations to the amount of force that can be used in response to a perceived threat. I can’t believe Bryant will face no consequence for his actions: vehicular manslaughter at the very least should apply. And yes BGW, sadly, power, politics and money determine the course of “justice” up here, too, on a disturbingly consistent basis.

  6. This is the kind of thing I’d expect to read at The Onion.

    re poster #2: Regardless of how much of a douche bag this guy may or may not have been, I fail to see how he is not the victim. Even if you could argue that the man driving the car was victimized at some point in the altercation, he still did not have merit to wipe the dude off his car by use of stationary objects on the side of the road. I could understand if the guy got out of his car and embarrassed the kid by giving him an old fashioned ass-beating (not necessarily advocating that), but using a car as a weapon is just ridiculous. Even a fucking gun would have been more sensible than a car in this situation; at least a gun can be controlled 100% in the hands of a skilled marksman.

  7. That said, I should be fair and state that there is a possibility that I’m wrong about the driver’s intentions – perhaps he truly feared for his life and somehow his brain decided that his best course of action to defend himself and his lady-friend was to use his car as a weapon. I can’t rule that out. I just have an incredibly hard time believing that his decisions were ruled by fear rather than anger and rage.

  8. …when accidents between bicycles & motor vehicle are reported in newspapers, if you read the “comments section” of any on-line fishwrap, the vehemence & vilification directed at cyclists is downright nasty, without exception, no matter the obvious circumstances described…

    …despite bicycle lanes & education programs, in accident situations, you/we are at fault in the majority of the public’s eye if you ride a bike on a public road, details & responsible parties not withstanding…

    …there is simply a high percentage of the population that feels we deserve what we get, for no more than daring’ to occupy the same piece road they accept as their own…

    …people express outrage when we stand up to be counted…i wonder how much of that is fomented by our own behavior on bikes & how much of it stems from their own shortcomings…

    …but no matter, equating a level playing field when it involves bicycles & motor vehicles is ridiculous…

  9. It’s should be pretty clear to anyone who has paid attention to the biker down stories that are all too prevalent that cyclists aren’t particularly valued or given fair/due treatment or (I think) reasonable protection when it comes to traffic collisions between autos and bikes.

    but..

    this incident, in my estimation is far from an ideal example to rally behind.
    On one hand you have the auto driver who inhabits the upper echelon of society and privilege.
    On the other you have a troubled young man with a history of substance abuse, rage issues and aggressive altercations with autos/drivers.

    While it’s easy to focus on the class separation of two individuals and submit theories about the connectedness of the privileged driver it’s simply myopic to not acknowledge from the simply facts what *probably, or at very least plausibly* happened.

    e.g. Knowing that the cyclist in this case had (4) recorded, witnesseed incidents of aggressive behaviour toward motorists in the same month ** At least one of which he tried to affect control of the car by removing the keys speaks to a pattern of behaviour that makes any subsequent case for self defense a no brainer.
    ** as a side note, I myself have been a courier (albeit many years ago) and to have 4 recorded, witnessed altercations in one month is astonishing. It means you are a total fuking nut job. To clarify, these incidents would not be the bang-hood, bang-window, finger salute, salty verbal offering type incident. Those things don’t get reported or witnessed. To get something reported or witnessed somebody has to go full on freak-show. And this guy was doing it weekly.

    So, that brings us to the night of the misfortune. Where the cyclist was liquored up, had already had an altercation that required police presence, and he gets into a problem with a driver of a convertible.

    So, what was he doing hanging onto the car? Was he going for the keys again? Was he holding or pulling on the steering wheel causing the car to swerve or even putting the car into the other lane?

    I’ve watched the videos and followed the story because it’s fairly local to me, and the scenario I just put out there is plausible when looking at the videos and facts. Then when you take into account the pattern of behavior the cyclist had demonstrated in the prior weeks ..the case makes itself.

    It’s sad, and while I do think the driver should be held accountable for his own bad decisions on that night, the outrage and the cries for blood are knee jerk, and are probably based on our collective experience as responsible cyclists being marginalized, threatened, and generally treated as second class road users.
    But this incident doesn’t fit that mold.

    I can already hear the flames, but there are a boat load of more egregious examples of disrespect towards cyclists to rally behind. This one just doesn’t have any traction.

  10. Very well put Kark. It sounds almost like the car and the bike were secondary props in this altercation. Their mere presence automatically sparks an “us versus them” debate, but as both a driver and a cyclist I don’t think either of these men behaved in a way that represents an “us” that I want to be a part of. To be honest, even day to day I’m starting to have a hard time standing up for the rights of cyclists when I’m surrounded by so many people on bikes just acting like complete assholes.

  11. My bias is almost always towards the cyclist, given the clear imbalance of power in these situations. I have a hard time empathizing with Sheppard in this case as by all accounts he seems to have been the aggressor. He had serious anger and behaviour issues, was drunk at the time and had a pattern of altercations like this with motorists. I am not naive though – I realize Bryant mobilized a huge PR machine to paint this picture.

    To me the question is if Bryant acted in a reasonable way, in self defense? I think I would have tried to get away from Sheppard in a similar altercation. It’s tough to say if wiping Shepphard off the side of the car was Bryant’s intent or a result of Shepphard grabbing the wheel and fighting for control of the vehicle. Bryant still had control of the accelerator and brakes and could have stopped and called police. I’m not sure a reasonable person would have floored it for blocks if they were wrestling for control of the steering wheel, but the fight or flight instinct does strange things to people in the heat of the moment.

  12. You make a good case, Kark. I can definitely believe that the kid was a nut job and considering his history, likely instigated this altercation. It’s just sad, to me, that what looks like the use of a car as a weapon was dismissed.

    This all reminds me of something that happened a few months ago that was well-documented here. I’m too tired to search for it, but it involved a city bus driver in Flagstaff and a guy whose name I think is Randy. Randy (if that’s right) managed to record the whole verbal altercation with an audio device and the way he conducted himself with the coolness while arguing with the driver was inspiring. You can actually hear him laughing at times. I’ve tried to be as cool as that in any crappy situation I’ve been in and it feels pretty damn good. Not letting myself react emotionally to road situations has probably kept me out of trouble, too.

  13. All very nice, except that Bryant was the initial aggressor in this altercation, as the vide clearly shows him hitting Sheppard from behind at the stop light, buckling Darcy’s rear wheel and knocking him to the ground. When you throw the first punch, or in this case use a deadly weapon in initial dispute, you can’t then claim “self defence”. The moral equivalent of killing your parents and then insisting the court be lenient because you are an orphan.

  14. Opus, is it really that clear? I’ve watched the vids several times and, really. I’m not disputing your observations. Just sayin’ it didn’t look at all clear to me what was going on there.

    I just watched a couple times again, (with notations on the vid added to clarify the moving smudges) and still can’t make out for myself what I’m supposed to be seeing. If you can really discern detail enough to make out a bicycle wheel at that resolution, then fair play to you, but its not there for me.

    Consequently, wrt the vid. I choose to make my assessment based on what *I* can observe rather than what I’m told is happening.

  15. …it was a ‘perfect storm’ combination of ugly personalities…

    …in retrospect, the deceased was a bigger douche than i realized (note the foto in the globe & mail of him literally clinging to the side of someone else’s vehicle that same summer) & as pointed out, the former a-g was exceedingly aggressive in his vehicle from the beginning…

    …consider this…basically, one man paid w/ his life so that all of canada could be exposed to & thus spared the poor judgment & decision making processes of the former a-g who was touted as being on a rise to be premier of the country…

    …literally true…

    …harvard educated & on fast track to the top but those aspirations were derailed on the corner of bloor & avenue road in t-o

    …that part was a good thing…

  16. I’m not known for my knowledge of world geography, so excuse me asking…is Canada in Africa or South America?
    Another murdering politician gets off, sounds like home to me.

  17. AfricanSingle,

    first off, absolutely full respect to you.

    But there is a world of difference between been killed by a vehicle ‘accident’ in a first world country vs being wiped out by a minibus taxi, hacked to death by a machete or being mowed down by an AK47 in a Third world country.

    Fully agree that this is a travesty

  18. @ Hurben: May bru ;) … I suppose the difference is that in Canada the politician gets off because he’s connected (which is sickening). In Africa the taxi driver gets off because he can’t be found for his court appearance. Either way it’s the cyclist who gets the raw deal in both places. In both places people look down on cyclists, that’s the problem.
    Greetings from the South.

  19. AfricanSingle,

    do not get me started on South African Politicians, from the Z man down, a more corrupt bunch you’ll struggle to find…

    This however gave me a small glimmer of hope for the old country..

    http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/bicycleportraits/bicycle-portraits-everyday-south-africans-and-thei

    I remember as a child my father cycling from Germiston to Rosebank every day to go to work, probably about 20kms each way. Had this huge as old black BSA bicycle. We only got our first car when I was 10.

    Damn, scrren’s suddenly gone all misty..

  20. @Hurben
    You look me up if you’re ever back here.
    Follow the Freedom Challenge, starts early June. I’ll be watching Kent on the Great Divide.

    There’s always hope, in Africa too.