Assault Charges Dismissed Against Fixed-Gear Bicyclist; Phoenix Prosecutors Could Re-File

Hannah Ruebbelke-Smith.

By Benjamin Leatherman

Hannah Ruebbelke-Smith got both good news and bad news in court this week.

The assault charge the 28-year-old bicyclist was facing in Phoenix Municipal Court was dropped by Judge John L. Wiehn on Tuesday morning after the city prosecutor’s office filed a motion to drop the case "without prejudice."

The bad news? "Without prejudice" means that prosecutors have the option of re-filing the charge against her until next June.

The motion for dismissal was filed by Assistant City Prosecutor Joshua Fisher, who informed Wiehn that his office felt “uncomfortable in proceeding to trial” with the case.

It’s just the latest twist in the Ruebbelke-Smith’s ongoing legal drama. As I reported in my July cover story on the growing popularity of fixed-gear cycles (single-speed, direct-drive specialty bikes that typically have no hand brakes) among Valley riders, Ruebbelke-Smith was accused of assaulting Arizona State Hospital security guard Giovanni Vitte during an incident at the facility in June.

Along with 15 to 20 other fixed-gear bike riders, she mistakenly pedaled into the hospital compound while competing in an “alleycat,” a type of gonzo, multi-checkpoint urban bike race. Vitte claimed in hospital incident reports to have been assaulted by several of the riders, including a female matching Ruebbelke-Smith’s description, after confronting them.

Conversely, Ruebbelke-Smith and other cyclists claim Vitte attempted to run them over in a hospital minivan during the incident, striking a few of them with the vehicle. Almost all of the cyclists fled the scene, with the exception of Ruebbelke-Smith, who was arrested and cited for assault.

Before Fisher made the motion to dismiss, the stage was set for an interesting court battle. Ruebbelke-Smith, who hid her dreadlocked blonde hair with a scarf and wore a hooded sweatshirt to cover multiple tattoos, had four fixed-gear riders who competed in the race ready to testify on her behalf. Meanwhile, Vitte was joined in court by his wife, as well as three of his fellow uniformed security guards.

Ana Maribet Sanchez, attorney for Ruebbelke-Smith, says she was asking Fisher some preliminary questions before the start of the trial when the prosecutor discovered there was additional evidence that hadn’t been presented to him, which also hadn’t been seen by the defense under the rules of discovery.

Fisher declined to comment on the evidence, or if his office will re-file charges, referring to the case as an “ongoing investigation.”

Sanchez also declined to identify the new evidence, but says Fisher “did the right thing” in filing a motion for dismissal.

“The [city] had the ethical duty to not proceed, especially if there’s outstanding evidence, which our side needed to see as well,” Sanchez says. “If they hadn’t provided it, there’d be a presumption that the evidence somehow benefits the defendant. So if [Fisher] had started the show, that’s what I would’ve argued.”

New Times was unable to reach Ruebbelke-Smith for comment. However, a posting on local fixed-gear Web board Tuesday by a person claiming to be the Ruebbelke-Smith blasted Vitte and other witnesses for being unprepared with any hospital security reports or surveilance footage of the incident. The posting also stated the security guards who showed up to court didn’t actually see the alleged assault taking place.

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Benjamin Leatherman is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. He covers local nightlife, music, culture, geekery, and fringe pursuits.