Wheelchair shocker: Viewers find accident video disturbing


Mitchell, pictured here in UVA hospital on November 7, two days after the accident, was hospitalized again on New Year's Day and will soon be moved to a nursing home where he hopes to regain some mobility and overcome chronic pain.

Why couldn't a driver see a man in a wheelchair crossing in front of him? That's one question raised by the release of a dash cam video shot from the front of Albemarle County Police Officer Greg C. Davis' cruiser on November 5, the day he struck wheelchair pedestrian Gerry Mitchell in a West Main Street crosswalk. 


The release of the video on Monday, January 7, also raises new questions about a December 12 memo that Charlottesville Police Chief Tim Longo wrote to address citizen concerns about his department's decision to ticket Mitchell.

The video, shot in broad daylight on a clear, sunny morning, shows with painful clarity the impact that sent the handicapped Charlottesville artist tumbling out of his chair to the pavement. And yet the Chief's memo, written six weeks after the incident, discounts witness accounts and attempts to deflect blame for the accident from the driver, an on-duty officer, and justify why Charlottesville police ticketed the man who'd been struck. 

His investigating officer, Longo wrote, "discerned that the sudden nature of the pedestrian coming into the officer's field of vision prevented him from taking any steps (other than to immediately brake) to avoid hitting the pedestrian." 

That explanation puzzles some who've now seen the video.

"That doesn't make sense to me unless he has zero peripheral vision," says pedestrian activist Kevin Cox. "If his peripheral vision is that limited, he shouldn't be driving."

Indeed, the video (posted at the readthehook.com), shows only a narrow view directly in front of the car, which was turning left onto West Main Street from Fourth Street by the Main Street Market. Mitchell was crossing the east side of the intersection heading south when he was struck.

The officer was not charged, and Longo maintains the collision was "unavoidable."

"My view," Longo writes in an email a day after the video's release, "was, and is, that the situation appears to have occurred so suddenly, that there was nothing else the officer could have done at that point but apply his brakes."

The video also features an unexpected soundtrack– the Black Eyed Peas' hip-hop song "My Humps"– which becomes audible immediately following the impact. 

According to Albemarle County Police Lt. John Teixeira, the audio portion of the recording triggers when the cruiser's emergency lights are activated. The lights also trigger the video to begin recording rather than simply streaming, as it does while the car is in standard driving mode. (Like a car-version of TiVo, the video recording captures up to 90 seconds prior to activation of the lights.)

Cox is concerned about the music– and its source.

"I'd like to know where the music was coming from," he says, speculating that perhaps Davis was adjusting a stereo or even an iPod as he made the turn and struck Mitchell. Teixeira says he doesn't know the source of the music, and in his memo, Longo writes "there was no known indication that Officer Davis was distracted in any way. I specifically asked whether the officer was on his cell phone or his computer." The answer to both questions, Longo wrote, was "no," and in his email he maintains there was no reason to think Davis' attention was anywhere but on the road.

This seems to contradict the report from an eye-witness to the accident who reported that immediately after the accident, the officer "said he had been 'looking down' as he turned."

Although using a cell phone and websurfing are verboten while driving, police policy does not prohibit officers from listening to music from the car stereo, says Teixeira.

"It should!" exclaims Cox. "They're supposed to be doing their jobs, not listening to music. That's a recreational activity."

Even considering the initial impact that sent Mitchell reeling, another upsetting portion of the video occurs as Davis and a witness hoist Mitchell back into his chair mere seconds after he's been struck.

"As a  professional, the police officer should have known not to move him," says Cox. "It's shocking to me that he didn't stop the witness from moving him, and that he then went so far as to help move him."

Mitchell, whose bones are brittle from the medication he takes to control AIDS, was treated and released at UVA hospital the day of the accident, then rehospitalized the following day in renal failure. In mid-December, doctors diagnosed broken bones in his shoulder, something he believes happened when he was lifted from the street into his chair.

On New Year's Day, three days before a show of his paintings was scheduled to open at the Mudhouse coffee shop, Mitchell was hospitalized with swelling in his joints and in "deep pain," he says. He remained hospitalized at Hook press time Tuesday, but he was scheduled to be moved to an area nursing home where he will remain for a minimum of three weeks.

Watching himself being struck by the car was "very upsetting," says Mitchell, who adds that the video confirms for him that his recollection of the accident is correct. He says he hasn't determined what steps he'll take– or whether he'll file a civil suit against the county or the city.

"That hasn't been part of my mind," he says. "I've been focusing on trying to get well."

While it was an Albemarle County police officer who struck him, what happened after the accident added insult to his injuries. Charlottesville police, who investigated the accident, opted to ticket Mitchell, and delivered the summons while he was being treated in the UVA emergency room. Although the charge, failing to obey a pedestrian signal, was eventually dropped because the statute didn't exactly describe the pedestrian signal Mitchell supposedly violated, Charlottesville Commonwealth's Attorney Dave Chapman declined to apologize for prosecuting Mitchell.

Longo, however, says he saw Mitchell in City Hall several weeks ago, apologized to him, and says he plans to "follow up" now that the case is resolved.

Teixeira says the Albemarle County Police Department has learned a lesson from the incident– "to respond empathetically as soon as you can." Police policy prohibits officers from commenting on internal or external investigations, and Teixeira– who on Monday issued an apology to Mitchell on behalf of Albemarle County Police– believes the policy contributed to community concerns that the Department was engaging in a cover-up or simply didn't care.

"That's not the case," he says.

Albemarle County's internal investigation into the incident will wrap in a couple of weeks, says Teixeira, who doesn't know whether results will be made public. The video was released to the public two business days after the case was dropped and after numerous media appeals for the public document. Texeira says the release, which might legally have been withheld until the internal investigation wrapped, was an effort to help people understand how the accident happened.

"We're hoping by putting the video out," he says, "that people can make their own minds up."


Read more on: Gerry Mitchell


Sounds to me the police (Albemarle and Charlottesville) are GUILTY as charged! Sue them!

quote "Although using a cell phone and websurfing are verboten while driving, police policy does not prohibit officers from listening to music from the car stereo, says Teixeira."

In all my worldly travels verboten is German for forbidden or prohibited. So, I therefore have never heard anything so damn insulting to the public's intelligence in my entire life. I see Albemarle cops talking on their cell phones every day while driving on duty in marked and unmarked cars, trucks and SUVs. One such moron ran through a red light southbound at Sperry Marine at approximately 70 to 75 mph and almost hit me broadside one evening while talking on a cell phone. Had we made contact it most certainly would have kiled or maimed the person in the front passenger seat of my Cadillac. And had I been 1 to 1.5 seconds earlier entering the intersection we most certainly would have made violent and devastating contact. At the next red traffic light, hydraulic and Emmett, the cop couldn't get through heavy traffic and I could see he was still talking on his cell phone and royally dissed off because people weren't getting out of his way fast enough. It's just a matter of time before innocent civilians get killed by police cars driving crazy enroute to a call. 5 or 6 years ago a county cop in a white marked Caprice ran a stop sign and creamed a Toyota truck. The people in the truck were lucky they weren't killed or seriously maimed.

Well if anyone would bother to pay attention the female county PD sergeant who killed someone in her car, she'd wrecked multiple times before. I was there. Saw it with my own eyes and still have the pics on my PC to prove it. Jaws of life were involved once. I was not shocked at all to see what she did. She's been a danger for YEARS. They CLEARLY COVER FOR THEIR OWN!

I see a definite double standard here. How about a report that shows the frequency of PD driving incidents and accidents. This guy was distracted and is clearly at fault. I hope a judge gets to decide. Only then will the law enforcement in this town get out from under the mistaken impression they are above the laws they are supposed to enforce.

quote "Well if anyone would bother to pay attention the female county PD sergeant who killed someone in her car, she'd wrecked multiple times before. I was there. Saw it with my own eyes and still have the pics on my PC to prove it. Jaws of life were involved once. I was not shocked at all to see what she did. She's been a danger for YEARS."

I find that hard to believe. She locked the keys in her vehicle every 5 minutes and had to have another cop bring an extra set to her each time. :)

I've always been impressed by Longo, but this case is disturbing. I can't imagine watching that video and thinking that the officer did nothing wrong. It is clear that he wasn't paying attention. How else do you run into a wheelchair that has nearly crossed the road you are turning on to? Mitchell gets hit from behind! This isn't a matter of peripheral vision. When you're turning left, you don't look straight ahead, you look left.

But I can understand an accident. People run into things and other people all the time. What is so disturbing is the fact that having this video the police charged Mitchell! This is insane!

Ohh brother, I can't believe it, here I go defending Longo again. Longo was out of the loop when the charges were placed. And it appears Longo was (white) lied to as he obtained information to prepare his memo to City Council. Supposedly Longo has apologized to Mitchell face to face as well. I think the ability and obligation to charge the county cop with reckless driving now lies with the city commonwealth attorney. Things like this can come home to haunt the commonwealth attorney at the next election. Just like Camblos bit the dust in November of 2007. Never in his wildest dreams did the Republican Camblos think he could lose the election in a Republican county.

Peripheral vision does play a vital role in this accident. Even if the county cop didn't look left physically by moving his head, he should have seen Mitchell with his peripheral vision. Unless he was looking down like he first admitted. And looking down while driving a car forwards was enough to justify charges being placed. But it was a cop ya know. Who's going to charge him at the scene when other cops work the accident? :)

Had Longo been the first cop on the scene I honestly believe he would have charged the county cop and let the courts sort it out. How many people would really care if disses off Chief Miller? Has Chief Miller apologized to Mr. Mitchell?

Chief Longo did meet face to face with Gerry. He told Gerry he wanted to be fair and he was congenial, nice, and friendly, as he always is. He did not apologize.

Personally,I don't know that Longo is really the one who should be apologizing. Grissom wrote the ticket and Davis hit him. The most important apology is the one that should come from Davis.

I don't think the county will ever apologize directly to Gerry unless ordered to do so by a judge.

any one of us could have run into poor Mr. Mitchell. I think we should settle that as truly an unfortunate accident. The part that is undisputably NOT an accident is how the situation was handled AFTER the collision. If I were chief longo and my underlings had put my ass out the window like his underlings did to him I would have fired people by now. Very publicly.

The Chief of Police has a different job than all of the other people in the department. His job is truly to be an advocate for the Citizens, The rank and file officers, all the while enforcing the laws as prescribed by the eleted officials.

He needs to be respected by EVERYBODY ALL THE TIME. Nobody has to like him, but he needs to havethe earned respect of all. That is the only way that the department can function.

Kevin, my bad! I thought I read somewhere where Longo had apologized.

Radar, it wasn't an accident. It was negligence. Any person who can't see something as big as a man in a wheelchair has no business operating a 4,500+ pound motor vehicle on the public highways. When a child runs into the street chasing a ball and gets hit by a car... that's an accident. Maybe once the city police get their newfangled black and white patrol cars on the road soon, people can see them more clearly and stay out of crosswalks when they are approaching? (I crack myself up sometimes!)

rambo hater..

I respectfully disagree. While I believe the officer must have been looking down or strait ahead, I still think that it unfortunately could have happened to any of us. I would hope that if it happened to me and I explained to the judge that
1) I was looking ahead for oncoming traffic and did not turn in time to see him and that..
2) I immediately helped and apologised to Mr Mitchell.
3) That I reported it to my insurance company as 100% my fault.
4) I followed up with mr. Mitchell's condition and progress.
5) I stated for the record that I am now twice to ten times as careful as I was in the past..

... that maybe the judge would go easy on me and let me off with a reduced charge....

The problems with accountability started AFTER the collision...

Well, first off, you call me rambo hater. Which is fine. Then you basically explain why I am a rambo hater, you list everything they refuse to do whenever they are at fault in a critical incident. So you should be a rambo hater too in my opinion. Or at least a rambo disliker.

Is disliker a word? :)

Rambo hater...

I do not hate the Police or what they are supposed to stand for. What I do hate is the lack of accountability which stems from a lack of the balls that it takes to keep the department above reproach. The officers have become arrogant because the public has no confidence in them because when a few officers were A-holes the other officers looked the other way. It is up to chief Longo to FIX THIS PROBLEM. If heads need to roll then let em roll.

I want to trust the Police but ANYONE would be a fool to trust them in light of this event and the one on water Street where the cop lost his temper because someone told him to slow the F down.

Why is it that we always hear the "horror" stories about police and what they do/don't do? It is sad that in our society, we let the actions and mistakes of some ( yes, they are held to a higher standard but still make mistakes ) decide how we feel about the whole. Remove them, take away the few officers the county has off the street, the including the street that the unfortunate accident occurred, and then see how appalled you are. You could not pay me enough to be an officer these days and I think the officers are beginning to feel the same way. The county is already very short handed ( about 10 officers per shift for the entire county according to several sources ). We are sad when they get killed because they are forced to consider law suits in times where split second decisions need to be made, yet we continue to persecute.
I challenge the media to actually begin to seek out more of the positive contributions law-enforcement makes ( in addition to mistakes which are, too ,news worthy ). It would certainly be the fair thing to do.

I think the officer should be charged with something.I agree something must be wrong with his peripheral vision if he couldn't see Mr Mitchell in a wheelchair in the crosswalk and had almost completely crossed the road. I am just sorry he had to go through all he has.That's the problem now when it comes to an officer in the wrong or needs to be held accountable for wrong where does justice come in for innocent civilians?That could have been anyone a man,woman,woman and child. All I can say is before crossing make sure there are no oncoming officers you may be next.

Correct, CC! Had it been a normal person walking it might have been much worse. They might have been knocked down and run over by the cop car. The only thing that saved Mr. Mitchell was the wheelchair absorbing the initial impact and PUSHING him out of the way.

I am a motorist mostly, I don't use crosswalks very often. My biggest concern is a police car running a red light and hitting my vehicle. Not only was I almost taken out by a reckless county police car myself a few years ago, I also witnessed a Ranger pickup truck almost being creamed by a county cop in front of Martha Jefferson Hospital a few months ago. They still think people can see and hear them for some reason. The nerve of people, riding around with the windows up, air conditioning on and the radio cranked up! I've said it once before, I will say it again.... it's just a matter of time before some rookie in a police car kills somebody in the Charlottesville and Albemarle area.

Its hard enough to cross a street in a croos walk, but when a police officer hits you what do you do? Is it just me but aren't police officers supposed to be helping individuals safely maneuver across cross walks anyway? I have no idea what this police officer was thinking. He should be FIRED, he hit a man, probably changing a radio or simply not paying attention, and then had the Audacity to serve a ticket, knowing Mr. Mitchell had be injured. What if this had been a small child and not a grown man in a wheel chair, I wonder how Albermarle county and Charlottesville would have responded then. I say SUE SUE SUE!