Local American Indian Group Calls For More Scrutiny Of Columbus Day Clash

Oct 23, 2016

Credit Dana Nollsch

A protest under Reno’s arch on Columbus Day has drawn international attention. Our reporter Bob Conrad has been following the story and has a recap on the situation.

Three people face charges for a clash that occurred when a truck drove through a crowd of demonstrators in downtown Reno, injuring five people.

A group had gathered at the arch to protest against Columbus Day and the Dakota Access Pipeline.

“We spoke about genocide against us indigenous people in North America and South America," explained Raquel Arthur of the American Indian Movement of Northern Nevada, or AIM. "Our intentions were to bring light to the racism and hate we indigenous people have gone through from 1492 through today.”

Arthur was speaking at a press conference where members of the group demanded more scrutiny into what led to one person, 18-year-old Nick Mahaffey, plowing through the group of demonstrators.

At a separate press conference held earlier, Reno Police Chief Jason Soto provided what he says was a factual timeline of events:

“Mr. Mahaffey approached…in an antagonistic manner, revving his engine and repeatedly honking his horn. Mr. Mahaffey’s vehicle was approached by several individuals. Some of those individuals can be heard telling Mr. Mahaffey to take a different route, while others are heard making threats to remove him from his vehicle and/or to perform acts of violence upon him.”

Soto announced that Mahaffey was facing a misdemeanor charge of provoking an assault while two others, Samuel Harry and James Fletcher, are being charged with simple battery for punching Mahaffey and his juvenile passenger during the altercation.

Members of AIM are now calling for Chief Soto to step down in the wake of the incident and its investigation.

They say that Mahaffey got off easy and are criticizing the Reno Police Department and demanding that the federal government conduct a higher level investigation.

Loni Romo is with the University of Nevada, Reno’s Native American Student Organization, which held a demonstration on campus after the incident.

“To hear that it was just a misdemeanor," Romo said, "justice is not being served by just being a misdemeanor.”

The incident has drawn attention from around the world as videos of the clash went viral online. Debate has been sparked locally and abroad with people strongly divided on the issue. Some blame the protesters for blocking traffic on Virginia Street and demonstrating in the street without a permit.

Others, including Raquel Arthur, say that Mahaffey is to blame.

“If this was a man who feared for his life," Arthur said, "why did he drive past once as we marched to the Reno arch, then turn around and come back, antagonizing, and being aggressive?”

Arthur says that AIM will continue its demonstrations and speaking out about the incident. Reno Police Chief Jason Soto says that the investigation is still ongoing, and because of that, the city will not comment further.

Ty O’Neil and Dana Nollsch of ThisisReno.com contributed audio for this story.