Protestor says he had little choice when SUV rammed crowd

The attorneys for Jason Uphaus, the man arrested for falling on the hood of an SUV which tried to drive through a crowd of protesters at the base of the Chappie James Bridge, have filed a motion to dismiss all charges against him based on Florida’s Stand Your Ground law.

The motion filed by attorney Chris Klotz states that the driver of the car, Nathan Matusz, was using the SUV in a way that physically threatened the life and safety of the protesters. The threat, along with case law that gives citizens the right to protect themselves while standing in the street, triggered Florida’s Stand Your Ground law and gave Uphaus the right to defend himself and his fellow protesters, by laying on the hood of the car instead of being run over.

In the motion, Klotz also asserts that the driver of the car, Matusz, has a history of ignoring police instructions and careless driving. Given recent news reports of protesters being intentionally targeted and run over by automobile drivers, the importance of protecting citizens from aggressive drivers is even more urgent.

Uphaus told Inweekly that he went to the protest concerning the death of George Floyd to “support the protest, support my neighbors and try to fight injustice.” He added, “And if anything happened, to try to be there to basically use my body as a shield.”

He shared that he was aware of vehicles being driven into crowds at other protests around the country.

“In all honesty, it kind of was in the back of my mind at this point,” said Uphaus. “I saw a report the other day that said 66 incidents of cars running into protesters…Luckily, my son wasn’t with me—the first day he wasn’t. I just had a bad feeling about that day.”

When Matusz drove into the protestors, the group had moved to the base of the bridge to block traffic for the exact time a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on the neck of Floyd. A Pensacola police officer directed traffic away from the protestors.

“Mr. Matuse decided to disobey the police officer that very clearly was giving directions to people to make a U-turn away from the crowd,” said Klotz. “The car in front of Mr. Matuse followed that direction. And for whatever reason, Mr. Mathias decided that he was going to make a run at the crowd.”

Uphaus is disabled and walks with a cane at times said his military training kicked in when he saw Matuse’s SUV driving toward the group.

“A soldier’s job is to stop any vehicles from hurting the group,” he said. “But of course in the military, the solution would be if they don’t stop, you shoot them. But in the civilian world, I was hoping that just standing there would be enough.”

Klotz added, “You can see in the video that Jason was standing absolutely still when Matuse came up to him and ran into him with the car—literally physically pushed him backwards.”

“When he started accelerating, I didn’t have a choice,” said Uphaus. “It was either over or under, and there’s only one good option there.”

He insisted that he didn’t jump on the vehicle. He climbed on the tall vehicle as it pushed him backward.

“I’ve had to get surgery, and I have osteoporosis,” said Uphaus. “There’s no way I would do that intentionally because, more so than normal, that was an extremely dangerous situation.”

Pensacola Police last week released a phone call by Matuse to its dispatch. In the 9-1-1 call, the driver said, “I’m going 25 miles per hour and I’m not stopping.”

He claimed the Uphaus was banging on his windshield, threatening to beat him up.

Uphaus has a different version:

“At first, he was going quite slow, but I guess he got bored. He picked up speed. I got a video of one of the cars that passed him, it’s too blurry to make out exactly where their speed is, but it looks to me like it’s 50 or 60 and they’re not passing very fast…And keep in mind, that was during the tropical storms.”