By Joe Payne — Nov. 9, 2020: Santa Maria, California
*See update video below, including direct accounts from those involved in the incident.
A video of a Santa Maria man held in a chokehold by Trump supporters has gone viral across the internet.
The motorist was being “detained” by members of a “Stop the Steal” MAGA Drag event that drove through the California city on Nov. 8, 2020, after he allegedly caused a car wreck, according to the Santa Maria Police Department. The man held in the chokehold was 20-year-old Jacob Garza, who struggled while multiple men held him down, taunted him, and one snatched his cellphone.
“Welcome to MAGA country motherfucker,” one man said.
A woman can be heard screaming at Garza in the video as multiple men warn the Trump supporter holding him in the chokehold to “loosen up” as his face turns purple. Minutes later, as police arrived, Garza can be seen with blood in his mouth as he pleads for Santa Maria Police Officers to help him and retrieve his phone.
“That is my phone!” Garza yells.
“Prove it!” shouts the woman who screamed at him earlier in the video.
The cellphone video ends with the person who filmed it panning over to the wreckage of a damaged car and an SUV on its side. The video was quickly rerecorded and shared across social media locally before going viral elsewhere, including by the Twitter page Fifty Shades of Whey, which was famously retweeted by President Donald Trump after posting a video of a Trump supporter yelling “White power!” at Biden supporters in Florida.
The video has caused a furious back and forth on local social media, with Trump supporters defending the actions of the men who detained Garza for causing the car accident. They say Garza was attempting to flee the scene and tried to assault someone in their group, while other witnesses and Garza have said he was pulled from his car after the crash.
Trump supporters have also said that Garza was antagonizing the MAGA Drag motorists and throwing trash from his car at them before the crash. However, in multiple social media posts, Garza says he was targeted by Trump supporters and was chased, inadvertently causing the “multi-car accident while trying to escape.”
The Santa Maria Police Department announced the next day that they were recommending a reckless driving misdemeanor charge against Garza to the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office. According to Santa Maria Police Sgt. Nate Totorica, an investigation has been submitted to the DA’s Office that includes multiple videos, interviews with witnesses, and interviews with members of the Trump rally and Garza.
“We have conflicting stories and there’s multiple videos,” Totorica said. “Unfortunately we don’t have one video that shows the entire incident; we have several videos showing portions of the incident, so it’s tough to find an accurate depiction of what happened on that timeline.”
The MAGA Drag was driving westbound on Stowell Road, Totorica explained, and Garza appears to have caused the accident while driving through the middle of the rally from Speed Street. Garza was reportedly driving among the rally goers before disappearing, Totorica said, but returned again and “inserted himself” among the caravan of Trump supporters.
“He went southbound through that stop sign and crossed between the rally vehicles and he blindly entered into eastbound traffic and collided with a vehicle,” Totorica said.
Garza has alleged that the Trump supporters assaulted him, Totorica explained, but those involved in the pro-Trump event have alleged that Garza was the “primary aggressor.” Totorica did confirm that Santa Maria Police Department officers did help Garza retrieve his phone from the people in the video that took it from him.
“There are assaults on both ends, so we interviewed multiple people with both parties and we’ve sent that to the District Attorney’s Office and they will review the report,” he said. The report includes “the investigation that took place with all the involved parties, and then we collected any video evidence we could, … and they will file charges as they see fit.”
Garza has since started a GoFundMe account to raise money for legal fees, where he characterizes what happened as “a hate crime by Trump Supporters.” Garza, who is gay, has said in multiple comments that the Trump supporters yelled “f*ggot” at him. He also shared screenshots of direct messages to his social media by antagonizers that say the same.
Garza did not return multiple requests for comment on this story. The original poster of the viral video was contacted for this story and confirmed the time and place, but is a minor and won’t be named for safety and privacy.
The incident happened the day following the Associated Press and multiple network news outlets calling the 2020 U.S. presidential election in favor of Vice President Joe Biden, who holds decisive leads in five swing states. President Donald Trump, who has yet to give a speech since before Nov. 7 or concede, has posted multiple times to Twitter to claim Biden’s victory was somehow fraudulent. No hard evidence has been shared or presented proving voter fraud, and multiple cases in swing states challenging vote results have been shot down by federal judges for lack of evidence.
Events like the “Stop the Steal” MAGA Drag that happened in Santa Maria have been organized across the country largely through the social media platform Facebook. There have been numerous car rallys and demonstrations since Election Day in support of Trump and against the result of the election. Facebook removed the “Stop the Steal” group just days ago for inciting violence and spreading misinformation.
The incident isn’t the first pro-Trump event to devolve into violence in Santa Maria. This reporter captured footage of a Trump supporter shoving and taking swings at a counter demonstrator during an Oct. 3 livestream last month at a pro-Trump event at the Crossroads shopping center. The Santa Maria Police Department was called to that event to keep the peace and break up the conflict.
During another MAGA Drag car rally in Santa Maria, a Trump flag was cut up by “some people with opposing political beliefs,” according to Santa Maria Police Sgt. Totorica. There was no request for prosecution, he said.
The possibility of conflicts and violence motivated by politics or around the election have been discussed at the department, Totorica explained.
“I think that’s a discussion in our profession as a whole,” he said. “There seems to be some type of civil unrest in our community and definitely some strong separation and beliefs with our political system, and we are trained and we require our officers to enforce the law fairly for everyone regardless of all that.”
“It’s the only right and true way to do business,” Totorica added. “It’s very important to the guys out there.”
UPDATE VIDEO: Hello to everyone reading, and thank you for reading to the end! I spoke with both of the men seen in the photo today about what happened and share it in this video that includes info on issues with reporting on incidents with conflicting narratives. Thanks!
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