Man thrown from wheelchair for telling able-bodied driver not to park in disabled space, police say

The incident left the victim with a broken wrist and struggling to maintain his independence

Meagan Flynn
Friday 31 January 2020 18:16 GMT
Man thrown from wheelchair after reminding an able-bodied SUV driver not to park in the handicapped space

Philip Kinstler pulled into the Pleasant Hill, California, Target parking lot in his hand-controlled van on the night of 11 January. He noticed the black SUV across from him had parked illegally in a disabled spot.

Kinstler, who has been using a wheelchair for more than 30 years, saw a woman sitting inside the SUV. He plunked down his metal ramp to get out of his van, and decided to go tap on her window.

He pointed to the disabled sign. “I thought I would ask her kindly if they could not park there again, in a handicapped spot,” he told The Washington Post on Friday morning.

That single request, according to police in Pleasant Hill would lead the woman's partner to track down Kinstler inside the Target and demand he apologise to her.

Then, as customers and Target employees watched in amazement, the suspect grabbed Kinstler's wheelchair and dumped him onto the ground.

Rather than returning a shirt at Target, Kinstler, 52, ended up going to the hospital with a broken wrist.

“I was in shock,” he said. “I looked down at my wrist, and it was all askew, and then the pain hit and I thought, my life is over.”

On Tuesday, the Pleasant Hill Police Department released surveillance footage of the violent encounter. The alleged attacker, Jimmie Tiger, was charged with felony assault “by means likely to produce great bodily injury” and attempted kidnapping, for grabbing hold of Kinstler's wheelchair and wheeling him away for a short distance. He was arrested earlier this month and had a preliminary hearing on Thursday, the East Bay Times reported.

The assault has left Kinstler, who lives alone, struggling to maintain his independence. Paralysed from mid-chest down, Kinstler said he relies on his arm strength to do everything. With a broken wrist, he said, he can't transfer himself from his wheelchair to his bed without help from a nurse. He can't take himself to the grocery store. He can barely wheel himself around his own home.

And the musician can't play his guitar, one of the hardest blows, he said.

“This is like the worst thing he could have possibly done to me,” said Kinstler, who was born with a rare degenerative disease, syringomyelia. “If someone had hired him to do this to me, he could not have done a better job.”

An attorney for Tiger could not be immediately located, but a spokesman for the Contra Costa County District Attorney's Office said the 32-year-old pleaded not guilty to the charges. He has since been released on $180,000 bail, the spokesman said.

According to the Pleasant Hill Police Department, after Kinstler confronted the woman parked in the disabled spot, he continued into Target to the guest services counter. There, as a cashier was ringing up his return, a tall man in a black hoodie approached Kinstler at the counter, the surveillance video shows.

“Mr Tiger demanded the victim go back out to the parking lot and apologise to his wife regarding the parking disagreement,” police wrote in a Tuesday release. (Kinstler said Tiger described the woman as his girlfriend.)

Tiger was looking at him with a “quizzical” look, Kinstler said, while repeatedly saying, “You scared my girlfriend.”

Kinstler said he felt frozen, fearing that anything he said would send the man into a rage. Kintsler told the man he needed to finish returning the shirt and the two could then talk. That only appeared to make the SUV driver angrier, Kinstler said.

When Kinstler refused to go outside to apologise, Tiger “attempted to forcibly wheel the victim out of the store against his will,” police said. The Target cashier raised his hand at Tiger, apparently telling him to stop, surveillance video shows. But it was no use.

Tiger started wheeling him towards the exit as Kinstler tried to grab onto the counter, a sign, anything to stop it.

“The wheelchair is an extension of my body. It'd be like if you bear-hugged someone and then tried to carry them out of the store,” he said. “The only way to stop him was to hold onto the wheels. I gripped for dear life.”

Kinstler's resistance tripped him up. That's when Tiger “violently lifted the victim's wheelchair from the side,” police said, and threw Kinstler onto the ground.

“I went out of the chair like I was in a car accident,” he said. “I fell like a rag doll on top of my wrist.”

Shocked customers wondered what to do next. Kinstler lay motionless on the floor.

“Everybody is just standing there watching,” Kinstler said, adding that it was painful to him that bystanders or security did not intervene sooner.

The full aftermath of the assault is not captured on the surveillance video that police released, but authorities said witnesses ultimately cared for Kinstler until officers arrived. The video shows a man in a white hat walking toward Kinstler as the alleged assailant tried to wheel him away. A spokeswoman for Target told the East Bay Times that the man in the white was a security officer trying to intervene.

“Our guest team went into immediate action, and our store team security member immediately went to the aid of our guest and then called police,” the spokeswoman said.

Witnesses were also able to get a partial license plate number for the car parked in the handicapped spot, which police said helped them track down the suspect and arrest him on 19 January.

Kinstler is recovering at his East Bay home, but said he worries about the lasting impact the 90-second encounter may have on his life if his wrist is permanently damaged.

He spoke to The Post from his bed, where he remains each day from 6 pm. until the next morning, when the nurses return to help him get out again.

He said he had been feeling “naive” lately, to think that something like this could have ever happened to him for asking a question in a parking lot.


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