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Rally set for pickup driver accused in 2017 Patriot Prayer aftermath

Court records show man to claim self-defense in driving near protesters

By , Columbian environment and transportation reporter
Published: March 1, 2019, 6:00am
2 Photos
A photographer dives out of the way of a speeding truck after a rally held by Joey Gibson’s Patriot Prayer group in Vancouver on Sept. 10, 2017. The event had been moved to Vancouver from Portland in an attempt to avoid protesters. (The Columbian files)
A photographer dives out of the way of a speeding truck after a rally held by Joey Gibson’s Patriot Prayer group in Vancouver on Sept. 10, 2017. The event had been moved to Vancouver from Portland in an attempt to avoid protesters. (The Columbian files) Photo Gallery

Supporters of a man accused of nearly hitting protesters with his pickup after a Patriot Prayer gathering in downtown Vancouver in summer 2017 plan to rally in his support Saturday afternoon.

The rally is scheduled for 1 p.m. in front of the Clark County Courthouse, 1200 Franklin St.

William Donald “Billy” Wilson, 33, of Portland is accused of two counts each of reckless endangerment and reckless driving in connection with the incident, which came after a rally organized by the far-right activist group Patriot Prayer near the Vancouver waterfront on Sept. 10, 2017.

The rally saw scuffles and yelling, and three people were arrested, although the gathering did not see the running street violence sparked by other Patriot Prayer events.

Wilson was detained but not arrested in an incident that happened after the rally, as participants and protesters began to disperse north into downtown and toward Esther Short Park, following the official event.

Wilson — driving a lifted, black Chevrolet Silverado pickup adorned with two American flags — and a crowd of protesters exchanged taunts along Columbia Street, near the entrance to the Vancouver Convention Center, according to police reports, video of the event and multiple media outlets at the scene.

Wilson repeatedly sounded his truck’s horn, which played a strain of “Dixie,” and some protesters blocked and struck the vehicle, shouting at Wilson. One hit Wilson with a water bottle, chucked through his open driver’s-side window, as visible in video from the event.

According to witness statements and video taken of the rally, Wilson then put the truck in reverse, and the crowd around the pickup scattered.

Shortly after, Wilson turned back around to Sixth Street, where he stopped behind other vehicles waiting at a red light, heading east. Some in the crowd tossed rocks and water bottles at the pickup, according to witnesses, a reporter from The Columbian, other journalists at the scene and police reports.

Wilson then drove around three vehicles waiting in front of him and accelerated through the Washington Street light at Sixth Street. One woman, who was in the empty westbound lane photographing a motorcyclist stopped at the light, had to dive out of the pickup’s way, according to witnesses, video of the event and a freelance photographer there.

A police officer immediately stopped and detained Wilson, according to police reports and video.

When he returned home that evening, Wilson posted a video on Facebook in which he draped himself in an American flag and said, “No jail for this proud USA patriot!” The video has since been taken down.

Following the rally, Wilson told The Columbian he was afraid for his safety and trying to get away.

“I had no intention of harming anybody. I would never harm anybody,” he said. “I couldn’t disagree with somebody enough to hurt them.”

Self-defense claimed

According to court records, Wilson and his attorney, Angus Lee, have filed notice they intend to argue Wilson acted in self-defense. They’ll also argue Wilson was under duress, a defense meaning that his actions were due to someone else’s threats. Also, they will argue he acted out of necessity, generally meaning a defendant acted to avoid or minimize another harm greater than an alleged crime.

Wilson’s supporters in Patriot Prayer are calling the prosecution politically motivated.

Patriot Prayer organizer Joey Gibson accused Clark County Prosecutor Tony Golik, who ran as a Democrat, of being a secret leftist extremist because, among other things, Golik attended Portland State University and didn’t level charges against others in other scuffles at the rally.

“He’s trying to put a Charlottesville picture on all of us,” Gibson posted Wednesday on Facebook, referencing the white supremacist rally and counterprotest in Charlottesville, Va., a month before the incident in Vancouver. In Charlottesville, a white supremacist rammed his car into a crowd, killing one and injuring others.

Golik said the decision to file charges came following what he called a “thorough investigation” by the Vancouver Police Department following the rally.

“The charging decisions in this office are based on facts and law, not by political position of people involved in incidents,” he said.

Wilson was not formally charged until February 2018.

Reckless endangerment and reckless driving are both gross misdemeanors, and both carry maximum sentences of a year in jail or a $5,000 fine.

Wilson’s next court date is set for April 29.

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