BPD seeks review of incident at protest

Car entered crowd at June 14 BLM event

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BENNINGTON — The Bennington Police Department has asked state prosecutors to assess whether criminal charges should be filed against people involved in a car-protester collision during a local Black Lives Matter rally in June.

Two protesters reported that a car struck them while they were demonstrating in South Street on June 14, according to Bennington police records released Thursday. They claim that the driver honked his horn, made an obscene gesture and shouted at the protesters.

But the driver disputed the protesters' claims, accusing one protester of intentionally falling on his car's hood. Another protester admitted lying on the hood in an effort to prevent the car from possibly hurting people at the rally.

These, and other details, are contained in the investigating officer's narrative of the incident, which was released Thursday in response to the Banner's Freedom of Information Act request filed June 29. The reports were prepared by Sgt. Ros Harrington.

JUNE 14 RALLY

Shortly before 4 p.m. on June 14, Bennington police said they watched as the crowd of protesters entered the South Street roadway in front of the police department and blocked vehicular traffic. The crowd size was estimated at 200-300 people. They had come to protest the killing of George Floyd, an African American man, by a Minneapolis police officer who knelt on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds.

Before Bennington police closed South Street to motorists, a white Volvo sedan had entered, heading south. Officers saw the car "slowly moving forward," repeatedly honking its horn, but the protesters refused to make way for it, Harrington wrote.

Officers approached the car to help it get off the roadway. As they neared, a protester named Carlos Dobbins told police that the driver, identified by police as Todd Shoff, of Massachusetts, had struck him with the car.

Dobbins, 60, a Black resident of Bennington, told the Banner that the driver had raised his middle finger out the window and shouted at protesters.

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Dobbins said he fell to the ground after the car hit his ankle. "It just twisted a little bit. I didn't go to the hospital," he said in a phone interview last week. He described the driver as a white man around 50-60 years old.

At the rally, after Shoff had parked, he told Harrington that his car was "inching forward" when Dobbins intentionally fell on the hood of the car. That supposedly scratched and dented the vehicle. An unnamed woman on the scene also said Dobbins was lying, Harrington's report shows.

SECOND PROTESTER

On Monday, another protester, Mari Cordes, came forward to tell Bennington police that Shoff's car had struck her during the rally. She apparently was the woman seen in videos lying facedown on the hood of Shoff's vehicle as the car sat on South Street, surrounded by protesters.

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Cordes told police that when the protesters entered South Street to kneel, Shoff began to "lay on his horn." She described him as yelling at people, giving them the middle finger and continuing to drive forward, according to Harrington's report.

Cordes said she and Dobbins stood in the roadway to prevent the car from hitting anyone. The car, she said, eventually pushed against her but didn't cause any injury.

"Cordes told me that she was not sure of Shoff's intentions and if he was going to run people over or worse so she laid on the hood and hung on," Harrington wrote. "She thought Shoff may use the vehicle as a weapon."

Bennington police said they didn't witness the disputed incident. They also have not found a video that corroborates either Shoff's or the protesters' version of events. The videos police has seen so far begin with images of Shoff and Dobbins having an argument, which Harrington said he and other officers also witnessed.

When asked why Cordes didn't report the incident to police on scene, she told Harrington that as a white person trying to help Black people, she was concerned how her complaint would be handled. Cordes said she didn't fully trust the police, but has had no previous dealings with Bennington police.

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NEXT STEPS

Harrington said he tried to speak with Dobbins twice after the rally, but was unsuccessful. He went to Dobbins' home both times, saw Dobbins' vehicle but no one came to the door, according to his report.

Shoff and his female companion, meanwhile, apparently hadn't responded to the BPD's request to submit a written statement about the incident.

The Banner has not been able to locate Shoff to get a comment. The police records that were released provide no address or contact information.

Cordes declined to speak with the Banner, citing the ongoing police investigation.

The case has now been forwarded to the Bennington State's Attorney's Office. The office will assess whether criminal charges should be filed against Shoff, Dobbins and Cordes, BPD assistant chief Lt. Camillo Grande said Thursday.

Bennington County State's Attorney Erica Marthage could not be reached for comment Friday.

Contact Tiffany Tan at ttan@benningtonbanner.com or @tiffgtan on Facebook and Twitter.


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