The Alameda County District Attorney’s Office has declined to file criminal charges against Najari Smith, a bicycling activist from Richmond who was arrested while leading a group bike ride in Oakland earlier this month.
District attorney’s office spokeswoman Teresa Drenick confirmed Monday that her office reviewed the case on Friday, a day after Richmond Mayor Tom Butt sent a letter on Smith’s behalf to District Attorney Nancy O’Malley and Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf. Butt also shared the letter on Facebook.
“It looks like a case of bicycling while black.”
Smith was arrested at about 10 p.m. on Aug. 3, shortly after the conclusion of the monthly First Friday art festival on Telegraph Avenue. In a statement, Oakland police said that Smith was impeding traffic at the intersection of West Grand and Telegraph avenues “by taking over the intersection and continuously riding in circles.”
The department said he also had a sound system that could be heard over 50 feet, an infraction under California law.
Oakland police said Smith refused to provide identification or information so the officers could issue him a ticket for the sound violation. According to police, he continued to refuse to provide identification and was arrested for resisting arrest.
In his letter, Butt said that it appeared that the Oakland police statement was inaccurate. Butt provided a copy of a ticket issued to Smith by Oakland police Officer Nigel Lawson, which included Smith’s full name, address and birthdate.
Regardless, Smith’s bicycle and stereo were impounded and he spent two nights in Santa Rita Jail before posting $5,000 bail.
Civil rights attorney Walter Riley agreed to represent Smith for free. Riley said on Saturday that he thinks that the officer’s conduct should be reviewed along with any policies that allowed the officer’s conduct.
Riley did not immediately return a call today seeking comment on the district attorney’s decision.
Smith, 39, founded the bicycling organization Rich City Rides in 2012 and serves as its executive director. The organization encourages bicycling as a healthy lifestyle choice, provides instructions in bike mechanics to young people in Richmond and gives them an opportunity to earn bikes through volunteering. He is also a member of the Richmond Bicycle-Pedestrian Advisory Committee.
Butt said in his letter:
“Najari Smith is an extremely thoughtful, collaborative and caring person. … He is widely respected throughout the Richmond community.”
Supporters had planned to rally at the Wiley Manuel courthouse in Oakland on Aug. 31, the day of a scheduled court appearance for Smith, and also circulated a petition that had 683 signatures as of this afternoon.