Oregon State Police Capt. Rob Edwards was patrolling a two-lane rural highway west of Eugene in an unmarked gray Chevy Camaro when a motorcyclist passed him. Edwards estimated the bike to be going at least 100 mph.
What happened over the next several minutes has now been viewed more than 200,000 times on YouTube.
Edwards turned on his lights and sirens and began to give chase through the pastoral stretch of the Willamette Valley.
What Edwards didn’t know was that the unmarked car he was driving was equipped with a functioning dashboard camera.
So when Edwards eventually struck Justin Wilkens' motorcycle with his car, then pulled his gun and kicked Wilkens in the chest, he did not know that the whole episode would be played – again and again – before a U.S. District Court jury.
The three-day trial in Eugene ended last week with a $180,000 verdict in Wilkens’ favor for economic and punitive damages.
The jury said Edwards violated Wilkens' civil rights when he pulled him over and kicked him, but the jury didn't find that Wilkens, 41, suffered harm when Edwards unholstered his gun and trained it on Wilkens.
In the video, Edwards follows Wilkens for some time before Wilkens stops. In his lawsuit, Wilkens said he couldn’t hear the siren, and his small rearview mirror did not show the lights on the unmarked car, which are located on the car’s grille, not on its roof.
Edwards acknowledged he was “frustrated” that Wilkens didn’t comply sooner. After the chase ends and Wilkens pulls over, the video shows Edwards follow him closely and appear to turn his cruiser. It strikes the motorcycle from the rear and continues to roll forward, throwing Wilkens from his seat.
Wilkens struggles up and turns to the left of the screen, where Edwards is offscreen. He turns his palms down and outward. “What did I do?” he asked, according to his lawsuit.
Wilkens drops his head and starts to enter a crouching position, as if to go on his knees, when the burly Edwards enters from the left of the screen, his gun drawn and twisted to the side, pointed at Wilkens’ head.
Suddenly, Edwards strikes out with his left leg, connecting with Wilkens’ sternum, then points Wilkens to the ground. Wilkens goes to his knees and attempts to remove his helmet. Edwards keeps a gun trained on him and orders him to lie down. Then Edwards roughly pushes him down and holsters his weapon.
With Wilkens out of view of the dashboard camera, Edwards uses both hands to handcuff Wilkens and reach for his radio to report the stop. According to Wilkens’ lawsuit, Edwards then “lowered his left knee into [Wilkins'] back repeatedly.”
Edwards pulled off Wilkens' helmet and gloves while keeping a knee on Wilkens' back. Wilkens said in the lawsuit that the collision and the arrest left him with broken ribs and a broken clavicle that required doctors to insert a plate and screws to keep it in place.
Neither Wilkens nor attorneys with the Oregon Department of Justice immediately returned calls seeking comment.
Before the jury verdict, Edwards asserted in court that he had qualified immunity, meaning that he was doing his job as a public servant when he stopped Wilkens.
There were some details that Edwards' legal team wanted entered into evidence – information that Oregon Department of Justice lawyer and Edwards defense attorney Heather Van Meter said in court was improperly excluded by U.S. District Judge Michael McShane.
Chief among their excluded evidence was that Wilkens had expired registration and no insurance when he was pulled over, and that Wilkens had multiple drunken-driving convictions and a 2008 alcohol-related crash on his motorcycle.
Complaints about the exclusion of such evidence could form the basis for an appeal, which would be submitted first to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.