Problems on the Path

A walker tries to stop a man riding illegally on an eastside walkway—and then things get interesting

Shawn Patrick Cleary describes himself as a "walking addict." Nearly every day, he walks from his house to the path along Golf Links Road, sometimes meandering on desert paths parallel to a wash and adjacent neighborhoods.

Fast-moving bikes have occasionally clipped him—something Cleary considers one of the hazards of urban living. But on April 4, Cleary saw a gas-powered bike using the path—and he decided to stop the rider and tell him to get off the path. After all, the path is lined with signs that say, "No Motor Vehicles."

"It's clear they aren't supposed to be on the paths. The signs are there," Cleary said.

As I walked along the path with Cleary on Thursday, April 19, he related what he said happened to him while heading toward the intersection of Golf Links and Swan Road in the late afternoon on April 4.

Cleary said he was walking west on the path as the gas-powered bike came toward him. Instead of getting out of the way, Cleary said he held up his arms while holding an end of the walking stick in each hand. According to Cleary, when he yelled at the rider, the rider grabbed Cleary's hands and arms. A fight ensued, with the rider allegedly biting Cleary's finger.

"I told him I was going to call 911, and I did," Cleary said. "I stood there, blood dripping down my elbow, while calling on my cell phone. The guy was calling me some hateful, disgusting names while we waited for the police to get here."

When police arrived, they interviewed the men separately. A paramedic showed up and dressed the cut on Cleary's finger.

And then, to Cleary's surprise, the police issued him a citation for assault.

According to a copy of the police report obtained by the Tucson Weekly, the three officers who responded to Cleary's call said both men were calm when police arrived. Cleary told police the rider, John Frederick, bit him on the finger, and that he in turn struck the rider with his walking stick.

Frederick told police he had tried to get out of Cleary's way, but that Cleary "ran directly at him, and in front of his bicycle, yelling that he could not be on the path with motorized bicycles." He then told police that Cleary began hitting him with the stick on the left side of his head, breaking his glasses and causing him to lose control of the bicycle.

"He did not know how Shawn's finger was cut, and stated he did not think he bit (Cleary's) finger," the report said. There were no witnesses.

One of the officers began to look for signs that said motor vehicles were prohibited on the path. The officer found one—but it was "obscured by a bush," the report said.

The Weekly talked to Frederick, who lives close to where the incident occurred. Frederick said he'd been riding the bike on the path for almost three weeks before meeting up with Cleary. He leaves early in the morning for work when it is dark outside, which is why he couldn't see the "No Motor Vehicles" signs, he said.

Frederick said he didn't think he bit Cleary's finger, because there are a lot of bugs on the path, and he thought one flew into his mouth.

Frederick added that the assault charges against Cleary are "fair."

"I didn't know I couldn't ride on the path," he said.

Sitting on a park bench in Freedom Park, adjacent to the path, Cleary showed me photos of a deep gash near the top of his index finger. In the police report, the officer who interviewed Cleary wrote that Cleary told police it was the fifth time he's fought with people who were driving motorized vehicles on the path. The last time, it was with someone in a golf cart who drove off before police arrived. "Shawn stated that he has gotten into fights before on this issue, and police never do anything about it," the report said.

Frederick was not cited for using a motorized vehicle along the path. Cleary said he went to the eastside TPD substation the next day to file a report of an assault, but nothing was done. The officer there took notes, which were added to the police report, Cleary said.

"I think the police saw me as someone who was trying to be a vigilante, trying to take the law into my own hands, but that's not what I was doing," Cleary said. "I also didn't tell the police I had been in fights, but that there were more and more people driving on the path, and it was becoming a problem. Now, to me, it's not even about the signs and the law being broken—it's about justice. Being charged with assault doesn't make any sense."

Cleary is scheduled to appear in Tucson City Court on Monday, May 21, to face the assault charge.

As we walked along the past going west, Cleary pointed to a sign that says "No Motor Vehicles." It is obscured by the branches of a mesquite tree; he said that is the same sign the police officer discovered. However, Cleary pointed out a similar sign the bike rider could have seen, and then a second sign closer to where the incident took place—and neither sign is obstructed in any way.

According to Baird Greene, the city of Tucson's chief prosecutor, his office doesn't decide on charges based on citations issued by police. That decision is made by the responding officers.

Officer Ray Smith, one of the responding officers, told the Weekly that it wasn't clear that Frederick bit Cleary's finger—but it was clear to the officers that Cleary had used the stick against Frederick. The stick, according to the police report, was found in pieces along the path.

Smith said there has been an increase in cases of gas-powered bicycles used where they shouldn't be, but that if residents are concerned, it's best to call police instead of trying to stop someone.

Cleary said he wasn't trying to take the law into his own hands. He said he simply stopped the rider, and the rider overreacted.

"He broke the law, but I'm the one facing charges," Cleary said. "That doesn't seem like justice."