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#1 2019-12-09 20:06:45

btrettel
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Registered: 2013-10-01
Posts: 58

Justin Lewis threatens Austin cyclist w/screwdriver 9/25/2019

Helmet cam video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=trSB3mK78bs

Back in September I was preparing to turn left when a driver almost hit me head on. That driver then made their own left turn nearby. Thinking I could get them to pay closer attention in the future, I followed the driver and spoke with them. (I've already heard from many people that this was my mistake. Let me say that I think talking to most drivers is worthwhile but you only need one crazy to make it not worthwhile...) The driver escalated fast, pulling out a screwdriver and thrusting at me at one point. I honestly thought he was likely to stab me. Because I was straddling my bike, I couldn't easily go anywhere aside from towards him. After he thrusted at me I left. I rotated the bike, started riding away, shouted out his plate number, went to a place where I could see him if he followed me, and called the police.

After a long process, the driver has been arrested and has a court date: Dec. 17 at 9:30 am. You can look up some information about the case online:

https://publiccourts.traviscountytx.gov/dsa/
Case number: C-1-CR-19-501593

Anyhow, if you want to attend the arraignment as an observer, feel free to come. I'll be there. I'll post later about the court room as I'm still waiting for a letter with details.

Edit: I think it might be "Floor 4, Room 140" as that's what's listed on the misdemeanor records page. Still waiting for the letter.

This has been a learning experience for me. Years ago I was very enthusiastic about video evidence, but over the years my enthusiasm has waned as it became clear that video alone isn't enough. I've definitely learned a lot about holding bad drivers accountable through this and I'm glad the process got this far, regardless of the conclusion.

Last edited by btrettel (2020-01-22 22:23:55)

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#2 2019-12-09 20:53:40

MichaelBluejay
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From: Austin, TX
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Re: Justin Lewis threatens Austin cyclist w/screwdriver 9/25/2019

Wow, I'm amazed that the driver was arrested based on video evidence, especially with the victim being a cyclist, and especially because it was an attack only and no injuries were sustained.  When I got hit-and-run'd and had contact info of witnesses APD couldn't have cared less.

Did you post this to CyclistVideoEvidence.com?

When drivers threaten cyclists for legally using the turn lane, does Austin deserve to be called a bike-friendly city?

Thank you very much for posting this.  I hope the outcome is favorable.

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#3 2019-12-09 21:19:28

btrettel
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Registered: 2013-10-01
Posts: 58

Re: Justin Lewis threatens Austin cyclist w/screwdriver 9/25/2019

I don't want to go into details in public before the court date (it might help the driver's defense), but the video alone was not enough to arrest the driver. It helped, and may have been necessary for an arrest, but ultimately I had to do my own investigation to get the police a second independent piece of evidence placing the driver at the scene at the time of the incident.

I'll post to Cyclist Video Evidence around Christmas. I'm also planning a page on my website that I'll link to here. On that page I'll put many details about the case, with a particular focus on how to work productively with the police in the future.

Last edited by btrettel (2019-12-09 21:29:23)

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#4 2019-12-09 21:27:12

MichaelBluejay
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Re: Justin Lewis threatens Austin cyclist w/screwdriver 9/25/2019

Understood, and good ideas, thank you.

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#5 2019-12-09 21:49:23

RedFalcon
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Registered: 2013-10-10
Posts: 205

Re: Justin Lewis threatens Austin cyclist w/screwdriver 9/25/2019

Thank you for sharing this with me earlier today, for posting it here, and also for going to the BAC a couple of months ago with the data you collected.  It was a shame we couldn't get the video to work. Yes, please do get this on CVE when you are ready. 

I am beyond livid right now and the next time someone mentions 'Vision Zero' or how 'bike friendly' Austin is I am afraid I will lose it completely.

That your video evidence, which clearly shows your assailants face, was not good enough for APD (fighters for the status quo), is bullshit at the highest level. The system is so clearly rigged against everyone not in a car, and this story shows that.

Yes, please do write up what you learned from this so we can all learn what we can and adjust our thinking for the future.  Like I said in my email earlier, you did a great job dealing with it. Screw anyone who says you shouldn't confront the driver. You were polite and direct and left when it became dangerous. Bonus points for calling out the license plate in case the video didn't pick it up.

Let us know how it goes.  My guess is that he will take a plea deal at the last minute on the advice of his lawyer when they see you show up at the court house. I wish I could adjust my vacation days to see it.  I hope others can make it.

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#6 2019-12-10 19:30:43

MichaelBluejay
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Re: Justin Lewis threatens Austin cyclist w/screwdriver 9/25/2019

Not surprisingly, they charged him with the wrong crime.

Should have charged him with Aggravated Assault with a Deadly Weapon.  (Includes threats without actual injury.)  The crime is a second-degree felony, punishable by 2-20 years in jail, with $10,000 also possible in addition to jail time.

Instead they charged him with the (misnomered) Terroristic Threat, not as close a match to the crime.  The penalty is 180 days in jail, or $2,000, or both.  But he probably won't get that:

If they'd charged him with Aggravated Assault, they could have let him plea down to Terroristic Threat.  But by starting with Terroristic Threat, they'll probably let him plea down to Assault (not Aggravated Assault), a Class C misdemeanor, with a maximum fine of $500 and no jail time.

Sorry to be a Debbie Downer, but I'm just the messenger.

Best-case scenario is that the prosecutor doesn't offer a plea deal because the video is overwhelming evidence, and the judge assigns the maximum penalty of 180 days in jail and $2000.  Unlikely, but possible.  Fingers crossed.  The driver is a menace and every minute he's locked up the world is a little safer.

Picture of the driver and arrest details:  https://www.texascrimelog.com/austin/20 … mminent-s/

According to the Travis County Jail Inmate Search, he's not currently there, so must have bailed out.

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#7 2019-12-10 19:50:40

btrettel
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Registered: 2013-10-01
Posts: 58

Re: Justin Lewis threatens Austin cyclist w/screwdriver 9/25/2019

RedFalcon wrote:

That your video evidence, which clearly shows your assailants face, was not good enough for APD (fighters for the status quo), is bullshit at the highest level. The system is so clearly rigged against everyone not in a car, and this story shows that.

The detective I was working with seemed to believe they had identified the right guy based on the video and plate number. She suggested multiple times though that this wouldn't be enough to convince the DA that the case would be successful. Oddly enough when I spoke to someone in the DA's office, they hadn't seen the video, so who knows what's actually going on.

Practically speaking I had to take what I was told at face value. I needed to get more evidence. I've been thinking about making a list of additional sources of evidence when I write my article. Unfortunately what I used here can't be used for most bad drivers.

RedFalcon wrote:

Bonus points for calling out the license plate in case the video didn't pick it up.

Yes, this is a habit I got from watching tons of helmet cam videos on YouTube. In this case the video had only one frame with a partially legible plate number, so it was critical that I repeated off the plate number. I'll often repeat off plate numbers of random cars around me for practice and in case they do something dangerous. Highly recommended to others. I've even recommended this to drivers with dash cams.

In retrospect I should have repeated the guy's place number when pulling up to him rather than afterward, and also positioned my bike better for an easy getaway. One thing I did do right though was keeping my distance from his vehicle. I know from experience that some drivers who almost run you over freak out if you get close to their vehicle. You almost ran me over and I'm the threat? So I keep my distance.

MichaelBluejay wrote:

Not surprisingly, they charged him with the wrong crime.

The detective originally planned to charge him with aggravated assault. Not sure why it was downgraded. My guess would be that it's harder to get a conviction for aggravated assault, so they downgraded to increase their chances of conviction.

Thanks for locating the mug shot, too. I had searched but couldn't find anything.

One additional point: It is worth noting that the driver is not being charged with almost running me over, despite that being illegal too (and arguably more dangerous than what he is being charged with). It was only because he decided to use a screwdriver as a weapon that this went anywhere in my view.

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#8 2019-12-10 20:41:14

MichaelBluejay
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From: Austin, TX
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Re: Justin Lewis threatens Austin cyclist w/screwdriver 9/25/2019

btrettel wrote:

It is worth noting that the driver is not being charged with almost running me over, despite that being illegal too (and arguably more dangerous than what he is being charged with). It was only because he decided to use a screwdriver as a weapon that this went anywhere in my view.

Yes, I forgot that part.  The driver actually admitted that he intentionally buzzed you.  That's a crime too, but as you say, they didn't bother to charge him with that.

People are already criticizing the bicyclist and defending the driver on Nextdoor.com, where I posted about this.  (One said the driver "did nothing wrong", but then deleted his comment.)

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#9 2019-12-13 16:25:42

btrettel
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Posts: 58

Re: Justin Lewis threatens Austin cyclist w/screwdriver 9/25/2019

I got the letter, but it didn't say anything about where the first court appearance is beyond what was online. So it's the "County Court at Law No. 5", "Floor 4, Room 140", wherever that is. I'll show up early to make sure I figure this out.

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#10 2019-12-17 14:12:07

btrettel
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Registered: 2013-10-01
Posts: 58

Re: Justin Lewis threatens Austin cyclist w/screwdriver 9/25/2019

The court date changed to 2020-01-17 at 8:30 AM. I was there on time this morning but his name wasn't listed on the display, so I checked and the arraignment was delayed by one month. I'm not sure what to make of this. Might mean that he intends to fight the charge and wants more time to prepare, though the date could have been changed for other reasons like scheduling difficulties.

If he intends to fight the charge then I'm interested in how. I think he'd have to invalidate the video and secondary evidence to win. I'll be paying close attention as I'm interested in how well video evidence would be accepted in court.

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#11 2019-12-17 15:12:42

MichaelBluejay
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Re: Justin Lewis threatens Austin cyclist w/screwdriver 9/25/2019

It almost certainly has nothing to do with the defendant.  If he wants a delay his lawyer has to ask for one in front of the judge at a hearing or trial.  From my experience, court dates just always get pushed back, because nothing ever happens when originally scheduled.  Don't be surprised if it gets pushed back a couple more times after this.  And next time, just check online to see if the date has been changed again before you waste a trip to the courthouse.

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#12 2020-01-02 15:42:51

MichaelBluejay
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Re: Justin Lewis threatens Austin cyclist w/screwdriver 9/25/2019

Is it in poor taste to start a betting pool about the maximum penalty for the driver?  I say $200 and no (further) jail time.

(If that happens, then he'll have ironically paid more to his lawyer than to the court.)

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#13 2020-01-02 16:51:12

btrettel
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Registered: 2013-10-01
Posts: 58

Re: Justin Lewis threatens Austin cyclist w/screwdriver 9/25/2019

I'd say 10% probability he'll spend any further time in jail for this crime. No idea on any fines. I'd guess they'd hit him with whatever is standard for this. I told the DA's representative that at a minimum I'd like him to get help for his anger AND take a bike safety course so he can see things from our side. They seemed to think that was reasonable so I'm hopeful at least that will happen.

Last edited by btrettel (2020-01-02 22:19:51)

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#14 2020-01-02 17:42:45

MichaelBluejay
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Re: Justin Lewis threatens Austin cyclist w/screwdriver 9/25/2019

I'm impressed with your being gracious and logical rather than just seeking revenge.

I'd further stipulate that the bike safety course has to be hands-on; most of them seem to be online these days.  Then again, I'm not sure there *is* even a hands-on safety course in Austin.  Anybody got the details on that?  I'd like to add it to the list of resources in the sidebar.

BTW, I wonder if we can find out how long the driver was already in jail when he got arrested.  I'm guessing no longer than overnight.

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#15 2020-01-02 22:21:10

btrettel
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Registered: 2013-10-01
Posts: 58

Re: Justin Lewis threatens Austin cyclist w/screwdriver 9/25/2019

Hmm... I had assumed the bike safety course offered by Bike Austin was hands-on, but they don't seem to offer a course as of right now. I could have sworn that they did in the past. In that case, I would be interested in learning if there are any nearby hands-on bike safety courses.

I checked this site for Austin, Houston, San Antonio, and Dallas: https://www.bikeleague.org/content/find-take-class

The only class I could find was for teaching people to be instructors for the safety class.

I guess that even an online class is better than nothing. If the arraignment has been delayed then presumably I can still call the DA's office, so if anyone has any better ideas let me know here. Might be reasonable to recommend that he goes on one of the large group rides with a chaperone?

Last edited by btrettel (2020-01-02 22:22:06)

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#16 2020-01-02 23:04:08

MichaelBluejay
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Re: Justin Lewis threatens Austin cyclist w/screwdriver 9/25/2019

Bike Austin probably did offer hands-on in the past.  There are a number of Bike League-certified instructors, some of whom used to be (still are?) on this list.  Maybe Doug or Jack are?  They might know what's available, or might be able to put something together.  Probably Mike Librik at Easy Street Recumbents would be a good resource.

I like the idea of a group ride as an alternative or adjunct.

Online-only seems insufficient.

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#17 2020-01-03 16:46:48

Jack
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Registered: 2013-03-27
Posts: 268

Re: Justin Lewis threatens Austin cyclist w/screwdriver 9/25/2019

I'm not a member of Bike Austin but I think that a hands-on LAB-type cycling safety class can be arranged through Bike Austin   
See:  http://bikeaustin.org/bike-education-request/

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#18 2020-01-04 16:19:15

RedFalcon
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Registered: 2013-10-10
Posts: 205

Re: Justin Lewis threatens Austin cyclist w/screwdriver 9/25/2019

Jack wrote:

I'm not a member of Bike Austin but I think that a hands-on LAB-type cycling safety class can be arranged through Bike Austin   
See:  http://bikeaustin.org/bike-education-request/

Sending a message through that link is like when they put that gold record on the side of the Voyager spacecraft. Leaving Star Trek aside, it is just as likely to ever get a response.

I wouldn't waste time on Bike Austin. It is essentially dead, other than putting on weekly rides. Last year I volunteered to be on the Education Committee and as far as I know it did just about nothing. I was laid up for 4 months after surgery, so I couldn't do much to help.  Yes, there are lots of LAB certified LCIs around.  I'm one, but having watched Ben's helmet cam video I don't think I could stand to be around that guy.  Go the LAB website to find an instructor: https://bikeleague.org/bfa/search/map/Texas?bfaq=Texas

Honestly, the best online bike safety course I ever took is here: https://thecce.org/online-courses/

It was much better than the LAB live class. The LAB class mainly focused on avoiding tennis balls laid out on the ground. It was circus tricks compared to the Situational Awareness you really need to learn to survive the roads.

LAB does offer a Bike Friendly driver course that might be good: https://bikeleague.org/content/bicycle- … ining-page

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#19 2020-01-10 13:18:50

dougmc
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Re: Justin Lewis threatens Austin cyclist w/screwdriver 9/25/2019

MichaelBluejay wrote:

Bike Austin probably did offer hands-on in the past.  There are a number of Bike League-certified instructors, some of whom used to be (still are?) on this list.  Maybe Doug or Jack are?

Not me, but I did take the class I think you're referring to -- "Road 1" -- from the ACA back in 2008.

It was pretty basic, but not bad, with a classroom portion and a on-road portion.  Wayback machine link.

As I understand it, they took out the road part and just offered the classroom part and the city courts would let you take that version and have it work like driver's ed for cars (if I recall correctly, the statewide rules that allow one to dismiss a ticket by taking a driver's ed class only apply if you're operating a motor vehicle), and I have no idea if that program is still available, but I don't think the ACA offers it.

(That said, the road part of the class was more useful than the classroom part anyways.)

Either way, it seems highly unlikely that the court would order him to take such a class, even if one was available.  That said, some sort of anger management assistance certainly seems appropriate -- that guy has issues, and if he doesn't get help with them, somebody may die -- either he'll kill somebody, or he'll pull this on somebody who's got a gun and will find that he's brought a screwdriver to a gun fight ...

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#20 2020-01-10 14:16:12

RedFalcon
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Re: Justin Lewis threatens Austin cyclist w/screwdriver 9/25/2019

The course I mentioned could be used for ticket dismissal in Austin and San Marcos a few years ago.  Not that I took it for that reason. 

https://thecce.org/online-courses/

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#21 2020-01-15 18:40:30

btrettel
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Registered: 2013-10-01
Posts: 58

Re: Justin Lewis threatens Austin cyclist w/screwdriver 9/25/2019

Thanks for all the information on the courses, all. At this point I'll take what I can get. If he does an online course, that's something. I've already made it clear to the DA's office that a course would be good so it's in their hands.

Anyway, the arraignment is still scheduled for 2020-01-17 at 8:30 AM at CC5. I won't be able to make this one, but if someone else goes I'd be interested in what happens.

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#22 2020-01-17 19:02:37

btrettel
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Registered: 2013-10-01
Posts: 58

Re: Justin Lewis threatens Austin cyclist w/screwdriver 9/25/2019

I received a voicemail from an attorney at the Travis County attorney's office today. Seems that they couldn't find the video online, so I emailed the link to them.

The fact that I got a call from them I assume means that the suspect didn't plead guilty. I got the impression that their defense attorney wasn't aware of the video either, so they might be in for a surprise, despite the fact that the suspect acknowledges that he's being recorded in the video...

Last edited by btrettel (2020-01-17 19:21:41)

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#23 2020-01-17 23:24:52

RedFalcon
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Registered: 2013-10-10
Posts: 205

Re: Justin Lewis threatens Austin cyclist w/screwdriver 9/25/2019

btrettel wrote:

I got the impression that their defense attorney wasn't aware of the video either, so they might be in for a surprise, despite the fact that the suspect acknowledges that he's being recorded in the video...

Smarter people, please set me straight if I am wrong, but I thought that the prosecution was required to provide all the evidence ahead of time so that the defense could NOT be taken by surprise (because of the presumption of innocence which is the basis of Western Civilization)

But don't get me wrong, I think the bastard who threatened Ben should hang in a gibbet until the crows pick his bones clean.

My understanding is that, while the defense might introduce new evidence, the prosecution could not. Am I wrong?

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#24 2020-01-18 07:32:55

MichaelBluejay
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Re: Justin Lewis threatens Austin cyclist w/screwdriver 9/25/2019

RedFalcon, my understanding is that the prosecution must share evidence with the defense.  But to me, this simply means that the DA sends a link to the video to the defense lawyer.

If the defense lawyer sees the video, I imagine s/he'll tell Lewis to plead guilty.  But that means he'll be able to plead down the already watered-down charge.  Probably better if he goes to trial and is found guilty of the weak charge rather than the even weaker charge.

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#25 2020-01-18 09:00:42

btrettel
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Registered: 2013-10-01
Posts: 58

Re: Justin Lewis threatens Austin cyclist w/screwdriver 9/25/2019

I didn't mean to imply that the defense wouldn't hear about the video until the trial. Just that neither the defense or the prosecution had the video.

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