Video shown Monday that was taken by a dashboard camera inside a sheriff's vehicle shows it hitting a protester and driving away — the latest flashpoint following the fatal police shooting of an unarmed black man in Sacramento.
The law enforcement official behind the wheel likely didn't know he hit someone, Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones said at a news conference where the video was shown, even as he acknowledged that he hasn't spoken to the driver. He said he felt free to speculate because the California Highway Patrol is investigating the incident.
Jones also blamed what he said were "paid protesters" for disrupting the protest, which a lawyer for the woman who was hit disputed.
The woman, 61-year-old Wanda Cleveland, is considering her legal options, her attorney Mark Reichel said in a statement.
The demonstration on Saturday night followed two weeks of protests over the March 18 death of 22-year-old Stephon Clark, who was shot by Sacramento police responding to a call of someone breaking car windows.
Police said they thought he had a gun but only a cellphone was found nearby after the shooting.
Protesters gathered outside a sheriff's facility Saturday because a department helicopter had helped police pursue Clark.
Jones said that he had been in contact with community leaders involved in planning the protest and "the result was a largely, peaceful, meaningful assembly" with no arrests.
But he took a defiant tone when describing the collision, blaming "paid protesters" for causing chaos at the scene.
"There's still much aggression along the driver's side of the unit," Jones said as he narrated the video.
He said that just before the car struck the protester, "The female protester chose this moment to bring her protest in between the vehicles."
"Unfortunately in many protests that have developed at this scope there are professional protesters and professional instigators that infiltrate the protests for their own purposes, as well as participants from out of the region that inflame" the event, he said.
Asked later about evidence for paid protesters, Jones cited the department's "intelligence and because of our history with these folks."
Jones, a Republican up for re-election, didn't release the video publicly but the department shared a recording of the press conference on its Facebook page.
Reichel said his client Cleveland is a longtime Sacramento resident and activist, not a paid protester.
"It is not possible that the officer did not see her," the lawyer said. "It appears from all evidence that he hit her intentionally. He drove away from an injured woman intentionally."
The collision caused "physical and psychological harm," Reichel said. Cleveland hit her head, injured her arm and spent several hours at a hospital, he said.
Jones has created "suspicion and lack of trust about his department," Reichel said in an interview with The Associated Press.
NBC has reached out to the county sheriff's department for comment on Reichel's reaction. A request for comment from the protest's organizers was also not immediately returned.