Several bicyclists and spectators from last weekend’s Critical Mass bike ride, which ended in seven arrests, say the police mistreated them. Participants have been meeting with law enforcement officials and the Missoula County Sheriff’s Department is reviewing the events.
About 100 bicyclists rode through Missoula last Friday night in an effort to slow traffic and promote bicycle riding. Similar Critical Mass rallies are held regularly in cities throughout the world.
As sheriff’s deputies tried to clear traffic lanes at several points along the route from Higgins Street down to Malfunction Junction and back to downtown, several people were arrested. Six bicyclists and one spectator were cited, all for misdemeanors.
Travis Burdick, 23, was arrested for failing to yield to an emergency vehicle. He says he had pulled off to the median on Stephens Avenue when he looked back and saw his girlfriend being arrested. He was walking toward the scene when he was arrested, he says. He was taken to jail for several hours, along with the other riders.
Burdick pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor, which he does not dispute, but he objects to the way he and his fellow cyclists were treated. He claims he was not read his rights and that officers at the scene and the jail made rude and condescending comments.
Dave Neptune, 50, who was a spectator at the rally, says he saw officers drive into the bicyclists and knock them off their bikes. His daughter, Jamie Neptune, 18, was also a spectator. After yelling at officers and attempting to run away from them, he says, she was taken down and arrested by three officers.
“She might not have handled herself in the correct manner, but the police sure didn’t handle themselves correctly,” he says. Undersheriff Mike McMeekin has been meeting with participants in the ride. The department will review each complaint by talking to everyone involved, he says.
“The meetings so far have been very cordial,” McMeekin says. “They’re very specific with their concerns and we’re looking into them.”
Normally Critical Mass is handled by the Missoula Police Department, who have a plan for the rides. However, a serious crime on Friday drew city officers away and sheriff’s deputies were asked to help out. Once there, deputies had to make split-second decisions, McMeekin says. The department respects people’s right to rally, he adds, but law enforcement also has to do its job.
“If they want to go out on a nice April Friday afternoon and protest and be prepared, if they break a law, to pay a fine or at least go to court, then OK,” McMeekin says. “Our goal is to make sure nobody gets hurt in the process.”