Police say no arrest will be made following an investigation into widely circulated photos showing a white man grabbing a Black woman from behind at a pro-Trump protest outside Los Angeles City Hall this week.
The woman involved told investigators the man was actually acting as a good Samaritan, pulling her to safety, the L.A. Police Department said in a news release.
The incident unfolded Wednesday, at a demonstration coinciding with the storming of the U.S. Capitol. LAPD began investigating the following day, after people began circulating the photos on social media calling for the man to be identified.
The Los Angeles Times identified the woman as 25-year-old Berlinda Nibo, who told the newspaper a hostile crowd was shouting racial slurs, attacking her with pepper spray and assaulting her.
“It seemed like these people were trying to kill me,” Nibo said, noting she was the only Black person around. “To use me to make some kind of statement or something.”
The images show the large, bearded man with his arms around Nibo from behind, clasping tightly so that her arms are pinned down. In one photo, Nibo tries to shield her face as a hand reaches toward it.
As some on Twitter identified the man as an employee at a West Covina Toyota dealership — including high-profile figures like actress Jane Lynch — Toyota responded to the messages condemning his actions and saying he no longer worked for them.
“The actions in these photos are inconsistent with Toyota’s guiding principle of Respect for People. We do not condone this conduct,” the company wrote. “While Toyota dealerships are independently owned and operated entities, we can confirm this person is no longer employed by any Toyota dealership.”
Toyota did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.
Investigators say a battery hate crime report was filed after they located Nibo. But after speaking with her, they determined the man seen grabbing her was not an aggressor.
According to LAPD, Nibo told detectives she felt a bear hug from behind and heard a man say, “You’re OK, I’m not going to hurt you. I got your phone in my hand. I’m going to try to get you out of here. These people are trying to hurt you.”
He then carried her away from the throng and let her go, officials said.
However, in an interview with BuzzFeed News, Nibo said the man did not help her.
“It would’ve helped me more if he had made way for me to move out of there completely,” Nibo said. She described her real rescuers as two bystanders who helped free her from the man’s arms
Once she was free, a bystander administered first aid to Nibo on the south lawn of LAPD headquarters, police said. Officials did not disclose what she was treated for.
According to the Times, she was pepper sprayed and scratched in the face, jabbed in the shoulder with a metal pole, and had her wig torn from her head.
Police did not say whether they would be investigating the individuals the woman had to be rescued from.
LAPD eventually declared an unlawful assembly surrounding the downtown L.A. protest. Six people were arrested: three on suspicion of carrying unpermitted items, two for allegedly failing to disperse and one on suspicion of resisting police.