SDPD -- Got An Attitude?

Critical Mass riders on Friar's Road sometime in the late 2000s
  • Critical Mass riders on Friar's Road sometime in the late 2000s

Let’s say a man bit your finger so viciously that the flesh was torn away and the bone exposed. Let’s say it happened in a public place in front of dozens of eyewitnesses who prevented the biter from leaving the scene. Say a police officer rolled up to the scene within a minute or two of the bite, and you and many of the eyewitnesses pointed out the biter to the officer. You’d bet your other thumb that he’d be arrested, right?

Victor Vega would have made that bet until September 26, 2008, when he was on the receiving end of such a bite in such a situation and the police officer on the scene did nothing.

Vega’s ordeal came around 9:30 p.m., near the end of the Critical Mass group bicycle ride. It was the first time he’d ever ridden in the monthly bicycling event. “Two coworkers of mine, they’d gone to Critical Mass before. And they said, ‘Why don’t you come out and ride with us?’ And they told me about Critical Mass. I said, ‘Okay, sounds cool.’ So I went that evening, picked up a friend of mine who is on my softball team, and went to Balboa Park and met.”

Critical Mass is more of a phenomenon than a planned event. The first ride was in San Francisco in 1992, 16 years and 1 day before Vega’s fateful ride. It’s now, according to Wikipedia, in more than 300 cities throughout the world. There’s no official leadership to Critical Mass, no agenda, no planned routes. But it’s understood in bicycling communities that riders will gather at a certain spot and time on the last Friday of every month. In San Diego, it’s 7:00 p.m. at the fountain in front of the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park. That’s where Vega met his friends September 26. “It was just people hanging out for a while, and then around eight o’clock everyone said, ‘Okay, let’s take off.’ Then it was kind of like follow the leader. We headed across the bridge over the 163, and from there we started taking some side streets, playing follow the leader, going with the crowd. We rode all the way to San Diego State University, and we turned back around and went down El Cajon Boulevard and headed back down to Balboa Park. We turned left down 30th Street, and I was going down 30th when I noticed there was some kind of altercation going on up ahead in an intersection. There was a bunch of people, kind of amassed in that intersection. Something was going on.”

The altercation was taking place in the middle of the stop-lighted intersection of 30th and Redwood in North Park. The riders were moving southbound on 30th, while some fellow cyclists were doing what’s known in Critical Mass circles as “corking,” that is, blocking traffic on side streets by standing in front of the cars. Motorists, you may have guessed, aren’t always pleased about having to wait for thousands of cyclists to pedal by. Such was apparently the case that night. “There were a lot of people” gathered in the intersection, Vega recalls. “As I was going through the intersection, it appeared that there was a fight going on between a cyclist and some guy who was a passenger in a motor vehicle. And I was riding by looking at them. Fists were being thrown. As I was riding by, the cyclist pushed the passenger of the motor vehicle into me and knocked me down to the ground. I got up and picked up my bicycle. The guy [from the car], then he turned to me and started to charge me, arms swinging. He swung about three times at me.”

Vega insists that he said or did nothing to incite the man. “Nothing at all. I was just riding through like everybody else. So he was swinging at me, and I had my bike between us, and that put some distance between us so he couldn’t connect the swings. But when he was swinging at me, I put my hands up to block his swings. My left hand was the furthest out, closest to him. He grabbed it and bit down on my thumb so hard that he broke skin. I told him, ‘You are biting my thumb, you are biting my thumb, please let go!’ But he didn’t. He bit down all the way until he hit the bone. Then, instead of just letting go, he jerked away and ripped the meat off of the bone. The whole tip of the thumb was dangling by a piece of meat. The bone was exposed.”

Victor Vega is going to have to look at this mangled thumb until he dies.

Victor Vega is going to have to look at this mangled thumb until he dies.

Two weeks after the incident, the stitched-up wound on Vega’s thumb is still gruesome to behold, and Vega says it’s painful. But when it happened, “I was in shock, staring at my bone, thinking, ‘I can’t believe this happened.’ Then it started to set in, and it was hurting…throbbing…constant throbbing.”

Blood from the bite wound covered Vega’s hand and arm and dripped onto the pavement beneath him. The biter went back to the car he was riding in and got in the backseat. Two women occupied the front seats. “People stood around the car so they couldn’t leave,” Vega recalls. “Of course, there was nowhere they could go because there were all kinds of cyclists going through the intersection. I looked up 30th, and I saw an officer, a cruiser, coming up slowly. He was taking up the rear, following the cyclists. I flagged him down. He asked, ‘What is the problem?’ I showed him my thumb. I said, ‘That guy right there, he just bit my thumb off.’ And the officer looked at me and said, ‘What did you expect?’ Those were his exact words: ‘What did you expect?’ And I didn’t understand what he meant; I was trying to make sense of why he was saying that. I said, ‘Dude, he just bit my thumb off!’ And then the officer asked, ‘What do you want me to do about it?’ And I said, ‘I want you to arrest that guy.’ So he pulls up, gets out, and he goes and talks to the guy that bit my thumb off. He talks to him really quick, like a few seconds. They kind of chuckle about something, and he comes back to me and he tells me, ‘Well, you know what, I’ve got witnesses that say you assaulted him.’ He says, ‘So here is what I am going to do: I am going to take you to jail, and I am going to take him to jail, or you can forget about it, go to the hospital, and get it stitched up.’ ”

Hutch Seese, a 51-year-old painter, was exiting a liquor store on the corner as all of this was going on. “I watched the whole thing happen before I got in my truck. That’s why I ran over to help Victor. I told him, ‘I’ve got a container of wipes and some rubbing alcohol in my truck.’ Because the cop had said [to Victor], ‘Just get the hell out of here.’ And I thought, ‘How could he leave? This guy’s bitten half of his thumb off. How’s he supposed to ride to the hospital on a bicycle?’ ”

Seese says the biter seemed irate that the car he was riding in had to wait for thousands of bicyclists to pedal by, even though the car had the green light. “The lady driving the car kept trying to inch through the intersection through all the bikers, but the bikers just kept coming [and she couldn’t make it across]. Then I saw the man get out, and it was clear he was out for a reason.”

Seese wrapped Vega’s thumb in antibacterial wipes, put his bike in her truck, and drove him to Mercy Hospital. Both say they were perplexed and angry at the San Diego police officer’s dismissive treatment at the crime scene. But, Vega says, the dismissive treatment by the police didn’t stop there. “The ER nurses were asking me about what had happened. I explained, and I told them the story about the officer there at the scene. And they said, ‘Well, we need to call San Diego PD, because you are a victim of a crime. Since a report wasn’t taken there we need to have an officer come out here and take a report from you.’ So, hours later, an officer does show up. He sits down and starts to ask me what had happened. I said, ‘Well, I was cycling in an event called Critical Mass, where a bunch of cyclists meet together and they go for a ride,’ and he stopped me, and he said, ‘Yeah, I know Critical Mass, I know what Critical Mass is all about.… Why did you participate in Critical Mass?’ And I said, ‘For the exercise. I have friends that ride, and they invited me.’ So he says, ‘Well, the next time you might want to do a little more research before you go out and just join up with a group of people. Critical Mass is an anarchist organization.’ ”

Vega figured out later what intersection the incident took place in. At the time of the bite, he wasn’t sure where he was. He was simply following the riders in front of him. Of course, the first question the officer at the hospital asked him was, “ ‘What street were you on?’ When I told him I didn’t know, he closed his laptop and said, ‘You know what, I am going to just refer this to a detective, and they may or may not contact you.’ He was just a jerk the whole time. He had an attitude.”

Eventually, Detective Eric Stafford got hold of Vega and an investigation is ongoing. Detective Stafford did not return calls for this story.

Tommy Nguyen, who works at Mission Hills Bike Shop and is a frequent participant in Critical Mass, rejects the anarchist tag but acknowledges that for some, at least, Critical Mass “is a political statement that people can ride bikes to get places — they don’t need their cars to get everywhere — and that drivers need to be more aware of cyclists.”

However, the mood of the rides is not political, Nguyen says, but more of “a party on wheels. It’s a family event. If you have a bike, you are invited.”

Nguyen believes there is a strong police bias, and possibly an unofficial police policy, against Critical Mass. “I have witnessed it,” he says. “The cops side with the driver 99 percent of the time. I have seen numerous times people just use their cars and just hit cyclists, and police don’t do anything about it.”

San Diego police officer Jim Johnson responds, “Is there a policy with the San Diego Police Department that we don’t like Critical Mass so we’re going to do everything in our power to discourage it? No, there’s no such policy.”

Johnson adds, “Handling any kind of protest situation, whether it be a pro-life demonstration, Critical Mass, or anything else, is delicate. We can’t be for or against it. Our concern is simply for [the protesters’] safety and the safety of others.”

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Where is the respect for each other and the law? These bicyclists belief they are above the law and don't have to obey it. Blocking intersections, running red lights and stop signs, some go as far as vandalism to private property to have their way. Do this justify the incident, no. This does not justify the actions of the driver and this sounds like a case of mayhem, a felony in California. The officers should have acted more professionally putting their bias aside. In other words, there's a lot of blame to go around in this case. But the root cause are these folks in "Critical Mass" who believe they have unfettered rights to the public roadways and there are no consequences for their arrogant and boorish behavior.

Every major city is starting to have problems with this group. While we were in Seattle in August, an investigation was under way after a motorist hit one of the Critical Mass riders. They provoke motorists and then cry foul play when someone gets hurt. I do not agree that motorists should be biting fingers off or hitting people with their cars, but this is what happens when people feel threatened.

You have to have a permit to host a marathon in any city, for the safety of the runners and the public. What does Critical Mass expect? Cops do not support trouble makers who make their jobs harder. If they do not act more civil, Critical Mass is asking for trouble.

It is hard to determine whether this story in an indictment of the SDPD (ALWAYS an inviting target) or Critical Mass. If you want a police force that behaves professionally, takes reports, makes arrests, etc., etc., move to Carlsbad, or La Mesa, or . . .

Then again, hang out with Critical Mass, adopt their scofflaw ways, and you are a target for other scofflaws. The Reader is performing a public service to report this story. The message to bicycle riders is this: illegal mass rides can be hazardous to your health. Ride legally and you are above reproach and if you are attacked, well, you might get some help from the cops. Otherwise, fuhgedaboudit!

This is intriguing! I hope someone can clarify just a couple of points for me: Can I now grab ANY Critical Mass rider I see and bite off his/her thumb, or do they actually have to be in my way or breaking a law too? Is half a thumb the max, or are all digits up for grabs depending on how slighted I feel? Can I use scissors if I'm a little germ phobic? What if I can't tell if the rider is part of Critical Mass (lets just say... wink, wink) but they happen to be blocking my way, can I still cut off some flesh? Ok, ok... what if someone else feels equally slighted, can we each take a thumb? I can hardly wait for next months ride! Are there any other nere-do-wells that the authorities have authorized for similar punishment? Skateborders? Let's start a list!

San Diego police just unilaterally changed the Constitution.

See, you're entitled to "equal protection under the law" unless they decide you're not. It's that simple. Do something Officer Johnson or his friends don't agree with...then you're on your own and no longer subject to the protection everyone else gets. Not only can any cop beat you for they're own private reason, but any civilian who likes can beat you with absolutely no consequences...no, with an official wink and a nod encouraging them to beat you harder.

That's some fine police work, there Officer Johnson.

Next question, how many SDPD officers are currently abusing steroids?

They're not tested for it, but look how huge and instantly aggressive they've become, hair trigger tempers...and when high ranking officers like Ron Weiss or Jeff Jordan post online, it's clear they consider the citizens to be the enemy.

It's just like they were on drugs that make them paranoid, or something...how can they look like body builders when they're putting in all that lucrative overtime. Are they taking some shortcuts?

Just the kind of folks we want as cops. For this they get the fattest pension in the land?

As a former member of the San Diego Crime Commission, let me say that I'm disgusted at what the SDPD has become. They've lost support from the public because of their own misbehavior and greed.

The case above, a violation of the constitutional right to "equal protection under the law", shows that San Diego "law enforcement" is not worthy of the name.

I urge Vega to find a lawyer and sue these clowns in uniform in civil court for damages.

Fred Williams

Woot woot, Fred!

And restless too - you are hilariousness.

In the famous words of NWA....

Fred Williams nailed it. Equal Protection under the law. Not only that but civil rights violations may be pending too. Check with a good attorney. Call the ACLU. Those cops will suffer repercussions despite their attitude and lack of enforcement of the law. In all fairness the cops were pretty cool at Halloween but at a very minimum they should have taken a report. To treat the guy like that not knowing the facts is way out of line. He could end up with an raging infection from it, maybe even die. Is that what it would take for them to go after the guy who bit him? If I ever get attacked by someone like that I'll toss in ADA code to boot. See you all on the next ride.

When I wrote "They were pretty cool at Halloween" I meant at the fountain area. After that I guess they toss their good image aside and treat the riders like enemies. The Police DOES videotape riders as they leave the fountain area. Probably for future review and prosecution if situations like this come up. Beware.

And yes, the cops response to this incident sucked, big time. I wasn't defending them one bit, just the motorists that get harrassed by an unorganized group that creates chaos when their supposed intent is to do good. The SDPD will use any excuse to use brute force and also any excuse to defend criminal behavior if it is used to support something they dislike. And they do not like Critical Mass.

SDPD is comprised of GED and HS grad educated (85%)cops-what do you expect with Bottom of the Barrel hires???

It is that way all over the state. Slapping a federal civil rights lawsuit on the losers is the only way to get them to change-because the only thing their small minds understand are $$$$ damages.

I feel sorry for the maimed thumb. It needs a more responsible owner. Someone who does not deliberately make another person angry, inviting trouble.

That driver! The nerve to get irate! Why, he was only on his way towards the airport. Or only his mother was sick. Or he was only low on Insulin and was on the way home to get his next dose. Come one, chill out man, participate! You're busy wanting to catch your plane and miss being part of a political event?

A political event? Hm.

How is it political that "people can ride bikes to get places?" What is political about it? What does this have to do with government or political parties?

Or what is political about the shocking revelation that people don't need their cars to get everywhere?

Maybe it is political in the sense that politics is the plaything of dumb people with an agenda. "Yes, I want drivers to be more aware of me so I will really piss them off now, so the next time they see me they will give me a hug and carry me across the street."


Drivers do have to be aware of cyclists, but creating hostility towards cyclists is not the kind of awareness I would want to arise towards me if I were a cyclist with an ounce of brains.

Okay, so it is not a political statement, it is a family event. Yeah, like the family picnic of your neighbor that goes on until 3 AM with loud music blaring, drunk people yelling, barbecue smoke pouring in your window. A family of rude, inconsiderate, selfish, "if it feels good, it IS good" people. A family, but not a family I would want to be a member of.

Too bad for the Reader for missing the opportunity to do some analysis of the phenomenon. Instead, we get the picture of a thumb, an uncritical regurgitation of the platitudes uttered by the bikers and yet another, old, tired, uber-predictable, cookie-cutter cheap shot at the police.

I give this story two "thumbs up". Getting bit is better than getting shot or stabbed though.

restlessnative is my hero. I pissed my pants laughing.

Victor Vega lets us know that he is lying his azz off when he says the following: "I told him, ‘You are biting my thumb, you are biting my thumb, please let go!’"

Please; that is not what you say when you are in extreme agony, as I assure you nearly anyone would have been in a similar situation. What you are doing in that situation is screaming bloody murder, and are attempting to beat your attacker's head in. What you are not doing is standing there calmly informing your attacker that he's attacking you and to please stop.

No wonder the cop had an attitude. He should have tazered Vega. Repeatedly. And no, I don't have any particular love for cops in general. It's a tough job I wouldn't want to do, but I'm not normally a big fan of the police. I don't like criminals and miscreants, which is what these bicyclists are.

Come on...

Yes, their monthly civil-disobedience on bikes inconveniences a few motorists.

For this, they deserve to be denied their civil rights when they go to file a police report?

No, that's bulshytt.

San Diego Police have a responsibility to protect and serve, not pick and choose who gets to file a police report. What other groups, other than bicyclists, have they privately selected for exclusion from constitutional protection?

Sure, these critical mass bikers are childish, deluded, anti-social, self-absorbed, aggressive, and self-righteous.

So are Republicans. Can I go find a Republican and bite his ear off with no consequences?

Is that how America works for you?


Okay, then. Lay off the guy who was refused equal protection under the law at the whim of childish, deluded, anti-social, self-absorbed, aggressive, and self-righteous San Diego Police officers.

While we're at it, let's improve public safety right now in San Diego.

We've got a crisis in our police department.

Steroid abuse kills. It's not only bad for the bulked-up cop's health, it so damages his judgment that he is a bomb eager to explode on citizens he perceives as the enemy.

Test all police officers for steroids now.

They're not currently tested in San Diego, right here on the border, but there sure are a lot of them who look like professional wrestlers, with social skills to match. It seems to me that their inexcusable behavior toward the bicyclist who wanted to file a police report is best explained by the open secret of steroid abuse at all ranks in the SDPD.


Fred Williams former member San Diego Crime Commission

Fumbler is on steriods, why else would he make such "roid rage" comments!

Fumbler, relax, Prop 8 will be overturned and your world will be whole again!

Reason # 4311 as to why I feel somewhat omniscient when I made the decision to move my family out of our once idyllic San Diego to safer/saner environs, just ahead of the advancing hordes/herds.

Vega made one major mistake in this incident. When the cop threatened to take him to jail, he should have said “100 witnesses to 1, I'll take my chance with the judge in the morning. Let's go to jail. The hospital bill will be on your dime. Your bosses will LOVE it. By the way, I'll need the contact info for that man because I plan to sue him in civil court. I will also need a copy of your reports.”

Even though the second cop had a similar attitude, when he passed it off to a detective, he was actually acting appropriately, because the aggravated battery (a felony, by the way) occurred without a report being filed. It should go to a detective. The would-be arresting officer clearly broke from procedure, possibly creating a second civil suit, due to delayed emergency response.

I have always believed that we all have a civic duty to uphold our civil rights. The price of freedom is eternal vigilance. SDPD needs to be more careful- I plan to attend the next Critical Mass.

Critical Mass m-f'ers deserve whatever they get. I ride a bike and if I ever get hit by a car, I'm going to blame them for turning every driver AGAINST bicyclists, instead of, as they would have you believe, trying to get people out of their cars. They're trouble-making a**holes.

No act of civil disobedience that does not endanger anyone or harm a child should be met with violence. If you've ever been at the intersection in question you know it isn't very hard to back up and turn around if you really need to. Critical mass is achieving exactly what it wants by exposing people like the thumb biter and most of the people who have commented on this story as psychopaths who resort to violence when they don't get their way

That logic is flawed, mrtboner. The motorists who are unfortunate enough to get stuck in the midst of a Critical Mass demonstration or whatever it is they are trying to achieve were not trying to get their way to begin with. They were just in the wrong place at the wrong time, without an agenda. Resorting to violence and panic/self-preservation in a mob scene are two entirely different things

Well, I happen to know the other person involved in this incident and Mr Vega is lying. He and some of his friends attacked the other person. It was an act of self defense. Ask Mr Vega why he wouldnt submit to a lie detector test. And the crowd didnt prevent the car from leaving they sided WITH the people in the car. In short, Mr Vega is full of it and needs to just shut his mouth.

and Fred Williams, maybe you should try and see if there is another side to the story before you go shooting your whiny ass mouth off.

Msgrant, I was not implying that the drivers had an agenda, only that they were unable to get where they wanted as quickly as they wanted. The reaction was like that of a child who lashes out at its mother for being denied candy.

"The riders were moving southbound on 30th, while some fellow cyclists were doing what’s known in Critical Mass circles as “corking,” that is, blocking traffic on side streets by standing in front of the cars. Motorists, you may have guessed, aren’t always pleased about having to wait for thousands of cyclists to pedal by."

If motorists have never encountered that wonderful, community service oriented group know as Critical Mass, they have no clue WTF you are doing. This is not the same as being denied candy.

Druidbros, thank you for your comment. Please ask your friend to present his side of the story. I'd very much like to read about what led him to bite Vega's thumb to the bone.

More importantly, he and Vega should BOTH be explaining their actions to the court. But since an officer of the San Diego Police decided unilaterally to violate the constitution, that won't happen...

I've lost my temper a time or two, but never once committed aggravated battery. We all run into idiots who mess up traffic through their self-centered stupidity...are you suggesting that we ought to all go physically attack them?

Even more important, do you San Diego police officers individually deciding who gets to have the benefit of their service and protection? If police decide they don't like you, then you're at the mercy of any punk who likes to beat people.

That's not acceptable.

Please tell your friend's side of the story, but it's clear no justice can ever be served in this case because of blatant police misconduct.

That's what the article is really about...not if your friend is the aggressor in a street fight -- who knows that I wouldn't take a swing at the critical mass riders when provoked beyond the limit. But that's for a judge to decide, not a steroid popping cop who denies due process and equal protection of the law to anyone who he doesn't like.

Druidbros, it's important that cops don't play favorites, acting as judge and jury. We're paying police salaries and outrageous pensions, it's very much our business to know about how local cops feel free to ignore the law at whim.

The only thing unusual about this story is that it's gotten out. I believe this happens a lot in our city, and it's time to clean it up before the San Diego police department brings shame on the whole city.


Fred Williams former member San Diego Crime Commission


There's an eyewitness quoted in the story who corroborates Vega's story.

i am writing this as a cyclist, not a weekend Lycra wearing racer (i do that also). but as a person who lives on and relies on bicycles for transportation on a daily basis no matter the weather or distance.

i am also a cyclist that has been participating in critical mass since the ride was only 15-30 people. though i no longer live in san diego, moving north a few months ago, i am quite familiar with critical mass.

to call it an anarchist event is ridiculous. to say that there is a political agenda, is also ridiculous. saying that a group of cyclists must ride in a single file line is little more than a myth that you made up yourself. a cyclist is allowed full use of the lane and is only required to be in the slow lane... a bicycle cannot prevent the flow of normal traffic as they are normal traffic.

critical mass simply creates the equivalent of rush hour traffic on the freeway. a group of cyclists riding the same direction and taking up an entire lane vs. a group of cars (much larger numbers) taking up the entire freeway in stop and go traffic for hours on end. rush hour traffic does not need permits to operate, neither does critical mass... there is no organization to apply for or plan the ride, as the article stated.

the police have also made it very clear in the early days of the ride that they would prefer we did continue through the lights even if they are red to keep the group together, also telling us that we should control traffic for ourselves seeing as how "wasn't their problem".

i am not disagreeing that as the numbers get larger on the ride there have been problems such as cyclists riding into on coming traffic or consuming excessive amounts of alcohol while on bicycle... but it is in no way the job of the public, the motorists or others to decide how to handle this... it is the job of the police to cite people for breaking the law on either side.

it is horrible that the police would act so carelessly as to not protect and serve the public, law abiding or not.

after reading this and all of the comments made afterwords, i fear for all of my fellow cyclists on the already dangerous roadways of san diego county.

Did I miss it? What's the name of the cop?

It might have been more effective if the Fire Department had simply used high pressure fire hoses to break up the Critical Mass bikers and force them off the road. The SDPD could have also set up spike strips on the roads to halt the mob of bikers.

"Sdg" at post #39 wrote the most intelligent and reasoned response to this article. Thank you. I remember when I first read this story, and I just shook my head. None of us where there, and I would have hoped after all this time and after the spread this matter received in The Reader, if someone had a contrary version to Mr. Vega's (like, perhaps, the thumb muncher himself) they would have come forward publicly with additional FACTS. We'll never know because procedure was not followed, which to me is often nearly as serious as the other extreme.

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