Video by Andrew Goff
A McKinleyville woman who drove her SUV through a crowd of Black Lives Matter protesters was sentenced this morning to the standard penalty of six months of informal probation.
Judge Kaleb Cockrum also ordered Jessica Perkins to perform 20 hours of community service and pay the normal fine of $79 for reckless driving. Perkins pleaded no contest last week to misdemeanor reckless driving and the infractions of running a red light and failing to yield to pedestrians.
Deputy District Attorney Ian Harris had argued for the maximum jail term of up to 90 days, saying that when it comes to reckless driving, “this is as reckless as it gets.”
“There were people in the crosswalk who were deeply impacted by Ms. Perkins’s actions,” Harris told the judge.
On June 11, 2020, Perkins drove her Honda Pilot through a group of BLM protesters crossing Central Avenue in McKinleyville, narrowly missing both pedestrians and horses. Sixteen months later, she pleaded no contest on the day jury selection for her trial was scheduled to begin.
Meagan O’Connell, supervising attorney for the county’s Conflict Counsel’s Office, argued this morning that Perkins was desperate to get home with medication for her sick daughter, who suffers from serious health problems. That day the little girl had a fever of 102. Perkins, a mother of four, also had an infant at home who was breastfeeding.
O’Connell said Perkins is in fact a supporter of Black Lives Matter.
“This was not political,” O’Connell said. “This was about her getting home.”
O’Connell said the protest was not sanctioned by law enforcement, and protesters also violated the law by walking against a red light. During the incident the light changed from green to red to green, so both Perkins and protesters ignored red lights.
Perkins has apologized fully and has taken responsibility by entering her pleas, O’Connell said. Perkins didn’t appear in court today “because she is afraid.”
“She has been threatened. She has been harassed. People have taken pictures of her car in her driveway. Her vehicle was vandalized.”
As for sentencing Perkins to jail, O’Connell said it would be nearly unheard-of for a person in this situation. Perkins has no criminal record.
In response, Harris pointed out that several vehicles were blocked by the protesters, but only Perkins decided to drive through them.
Perkins angled her car into the turn lane, Harris said, passing other vehicles that were stopped. At one point she was in the same lane as oncoming traffic.
As to the march being unsanctioned, Harris said law enforcement knew about the event but stayed away that day “out of respect” because one cause for the protest was police brutality.
Perkins drove up to 35 mph through the crosswalk, he said. A video of the incident shows she never applied her brakes.
“High speed, no brakes, lots of people around,” Harris said.
One bicyclist who was near the crosswalk told law enforcement he stopped and got off his bike instead of crossing because “he can see she’s not going to stop for him.”
Harris said O’Connell blames everyone but Perkins for what happened. And Perkins didn’t actually admit guilt, he argued, because she pleaded no contest. A no contest plea is considered a guilty plea, except it cannot be used against the defendant in a civil action.
One person in the crosswalk that day was Harriet Watson, who was allowed to speak at the sentencing this morning even though she was not directly a victim.
Watson told Cockrum she was in the crosswalk with her daughter and her dog when Perkins “blasted through.”
“I think she was really, really lucky she didn’t hit anybody,” Watson said. She suggested Perkins could have put her car window down and said “ ‘I’ve got to get home. Please let me through.’ “
Watson said she thinks about the close call “very often.”
Cockrum, in passing sentence, said he wanted to distinguish between doing a “prohibited act” and committing a crime with intent, such as assault with a firearm.
“Reckless driving is a prohibited act,” the judge said.
But he also took into account that “she ran a red light and she did so by speeding,” and also there were a number of people in the crosswalk and Perkins never used her brakes.
On the other hand, Cockrum said, Perkins has no criminal record and was in a difficult predicament the day of the incident.
“At the time this occurred,” the judge said, “she was in unusual circumstances that are unlikely to reoccur.”
He said if anyone was harmed it was psychologically, and “I don’t believe a jail term is appropriate.”
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