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DOWNTOWN | UNREST OF SUMMER 2020

Man who drove truck through crowd in 2020 pleads guilty, enters first-offenders program

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A white man accused by activists of committing a hate crime in 2020 when he drove through a group of mostly Black people in Downtown Madison, injuring a Black woman, pleaded guilty to a felony Friday but will have it erased from his record if he completes a first-offenders program.

Brendan O'Neil

O'Neil

Brendan O’Neil, 28, told police that before he accelerated through the crowd around bar time on June 21, people had been reaching into and trying to pull him out of his pickup truck, and that he drove off when he saw a man in the crowd with a handgun.

Under an agreement with prosecutors, he pleaded guilty to the one count filed against him, hit-and-run involving injury. It had not been filed with a hate-crime enhancer and Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne said Friday that “to my knowledge, there was no information which indicated Mr. O’Neil was connected to any white supremacist groups.”

The incident left then-24-year-old Alize Carter with abrasions, a fractured hand and reportedly a concussion, and it came during a summer of sometimes destructive racial justice protests in Madison in the months after George Floyd was murdered by police in Minneapolis.

According to the criminal complaint in the case, video of the incident shows O’Neil’s black 2007 GMC Sierra “lurch forward” at Frances Street and University Avenue and hit Carter, knocking her over “and pushing her partially into the intersection.”

“Oh my God. I think you hit someone,” O’Neil’s passenger is reported as telling him immediately after the accident, according to the complaint.

Police had O’Neil’s license plate number and phone number shortly after the incident, according to the complaint, and attempted to contact him at his home and by phone, but O’Neil didn’t contact police until about 10:30 that morning.

Carter later told police that she was hit while crossing the street and that O’Neil had time to stop before he hit her.

Dancing in truck

In a report sent to Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway shortly after the incident, then-acting police chief Vic Wahl said O’Neil only drove into the crowd of “several hundred people” socializing in the street after people jumped into the bed of his truck and began “dancing on it.”

“The driver was punched in the face and that is when he drove into the crowd,” the report says. “The driver was further attacked and continued to drive through the crowd driving over (the) victim.”

Carter did not respond to a request for comment Friday sent through Facebook Messenger. Court records do not show she submitted a victim impact statement in the case.

Moved away

The case had been heading to trial as late as last month, but O’Neil’s attorney, Chris Van Wagner, said there was no need for a trial because his client has the chance to avoid having a record and because O’Neil and his insurer have worked to compensate Carter for her injuries.

“It was a tragic situation. It was a chaotic situation,” Van Wagner said, and while his client had been under attack, Carter also did not deserve her injuries.

Van Wagner said O’Neil, formerly of Sun Prairie, has moved out of state after “there were serious threats on various social media sites” against him related to the incident.

“He didn’t feel safe here,” he said.

Tense situation

The incident just after bar time was already controversial after some of the people at the scene complained that the police department’s response was slow or overly aggressive.

Video released the day after the incident from city surveillance cameras showed police briefly deployed pepper spray as a crowd of people milled about and at least one person moved aggressively toward an officer trying to clear the area so emergency responders could attend to Carter.

Wahl said on the day after the crash that throughout the police response, many in the crowd refused to give police room and lobbed verbal abuse at officers.

The day after the incident, a group active in organizing protests in Madison in the wake of Floyd’s death called the incident a “hate crime” on its Facebook page. Another activist group, Urban Triage, alleged “a white supremacist intentionally hit” the woman. Rhodes-Conway also issued a statement the day after the incident suggesting it might have been a hate crime.


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