Video posted on social media showed people getting into a police-style Ford Taurus and the car jerking through a crowd blocking the street, its horn blaring as demonstrators screamed and scrambled out of the way.
No one appeared to be seriously injured and no charges have been filed. The NYPD tweeted that the car did not belong to the department. Police Commissioner Dermot Shea said the incident happened as protesters and a small group of counterprotesters took to the streets of the touristy Manhattan district.
Juliet Germanotta told The Associated Press on Friday that a pro-police activist who wasn't part of their group offered to drive them away because, she says, “a mob" was trying to attack them. Germanotta said she and some of the others support President Donald Trump.
“We tried to leave. We stopped because they blocked the street," Germanotta said. “They then begin to try to open the door and break the windows, so he drove to save our lives. That’s what happened.” One video of the incident posted on social media showed police officers fanning out to keep protesters away from Germanotta’s group as they got into the car. The video shows the car traveling down the one-way street toward an area where the demonstration is blocking the street.
Another video shows a bicycle blocking the car from moving at one point and one person punching the car's window and another person banging on it, Shea said. Germanotta made headlines this summer when she was arrested on several occasions for dumping paint onto a Black Lives Matter mural on the street outside Trump’s namesake Manhattan tower.
Vehicle history records indicate the car involved in the Times Square incident was initially a government-owned vehicle in Rhode Island starting in 2013 and was sold to a private owner in New Jersey last November. It was sold again to a private owner in New York in late July.
The news site Gothamist reported Friday that the vehicle’s license plate matched a Ford Taurus Police Interceptor linked to pro-police activist Hakim Gibson, whose Instagram page is filled with portraits of police officers around the city.
Gibson posted a video on his Facebook page indicating that he was at the Times Square protest Thursday night with Germanotta. She confirmed he was the driver and that she knew him as a photographer who took pictures at various protests.
“He saved our lives,” Germanotta said. Gibson posted about his Taurus on social media, noting that he had recently acquired the vehicle and was modifying it to look even more like a police car by installing a bull bar on the front and offering to trade parts for a side-mounted spotlight.
The car in videos of the Times Square incident had a bull bar but appeared to be black, while the car featured in a Gibson social media post dated Aug. 5 is white. A message seeking comment was left with Gibson.
Shea told Fox 5 on Friday morning that no protesters had come forward saying they were injured or that they would cooperate. “We have to interview both sides,” Shea said.
Follow Michael Sisak on Twitter at twitter.com/mikesisak