MY STORY: I Was Shot in My Car while Protesting Treatment of Immigrant Detainees by ICE

Susan Pelican, with her electric Bolt and protest sign

(What follows is a first-person account by Susan Pelican—a 78-year-old RN and midwife, and long, long time resident of Yolo County—of her experience protesting while socially-distancing. Her car protest took place weeks ago, and it was non-eventful…except for her getting shot. She’s doing fine. But her report is nonetheless fascinating).

By Susan Pelican
Special to the Vanguard

To my friends, colleagues in protest and in life and death work, and to my family: I want you to know that I was shot last week in Sacramento. I am fine—but what follows is a harrowing experience that I am moved to share.

On the morning of March 31, I drove my electric Bolt vehicle to Sacramento for a mobile (in automobiles) rally to protest the imprisonment by ICE of detainees in ICE detention centers. The plan was to line up in our autos decorated with appropriate signs and banners and to form a line moving around the Capitol and by the downtown ICE headquarters blowing our horns to alert passersby and, particularly, Governor Newsom to use his executive powers to free ICE’s imprisoned individuals to family or other persons where they could shelter in place.

This action, sponsored by several Jewish groups (and immigrant rights organizations), reminded us that people in Nazi concentration camps died from disease as well as gas chambers—and COVID-19 is such a disease that can kill inmates, and their guards as well.

We met downtown, taped on our (mostly homemade) signs and banners, and formed a line to drive up N street and down L street and then to ICE headquarters at 650 Capitol Mall—honking and waving to draw attention. We got some responsive honking and some waves back from the few pedestrians. We did this circle again—and then moved over to H street, where we proceeded uptown.

During the demonstration, Sacramento city police and the California Highway Patrol accompanied us. Turning onto H Street I followed a Sacramento city police car and took a photo of it since it documented part of the Auto Rally experience.

At the corner of (I think) 6th or 7th and H Streets the light turned red and I stopped behind the police car. My passenger window was down about 4 inches. Waiting for a green signal, I suddenly heard a VERY loud sound and then felt a searing pain in my head. The light turned green and I looked in the mirror to see blood coming out of that area. I was amazed to see I had been shot. My only concern was to quickly leave the demonstration.

I was too stunned to turn right away into the first intersection.. I could not turn at the next corner as it was one way the wrong way, but I turned onto the next—9th Street—and then right again onto I Street which took me down to exit Sacramento and drive to Davis on I-80.

As I was driving I was constantly assessing my physical being: I could breathe, I could see, and the bleeding did not seem excessive. (I had earlier put pressure on my head just above my ear, but it didn’t seem necessary). I decided that I needed to get to Sutter Davis Hospital (my hospital), but wanted to call my primary M.D., to ask if I should go to urgent care or the emergency room.

I managed—as I was driving—to dial her office, but could not safely dial in my birthdate…then someone from Sutter responded. I told her I wanted to speak to my doctor, but when I told her where I was and what had happened she instructed me to call 911. When I refused, she connected me to 911!

I now had a series of conversations with emergency helpers during the 20 or so minutes it took me to drive up to the ER. The 911 dispatcher—upon hearing my story—advised me to stop and await help from the CHP and/or fire department. When I declined, she connected me to the CHP who determined where I was (on the causeway) and how I was (determined to drive to Sutter) and she advised me to stop and wait for HELP.

I told her I only needed someone to call Sutter ER to expect me. I noticed that I was no longer bleeding, that “it” didn’t hurt so much, and that my faculties were still intact. She replied that she could not call Sutter, but that the Davis police could, and she patched me into the Davis Police Department. The person there asked me for and got the same story, and then handed me back to the CHP.

The woman there assured me that the Davis PD had called Sutter. Then she said, “I know you are a nurse and that makes you a difficult patient, but I want to stay on the line with you until you arrive at the E.R. to make sure you are okay.” I was happy to have her along and during the rest of the ride I told her my locations: “Now I’m turning onto 113 North; now I’m turning right onto Covell; Now I’m turning right toward the ER. I turned into a parking spot across from the ER, turned off the car, announced I was here, could see an RN waiting, and thanked my phone companion for accompanying me.

At the ER, I got out of the car, (about 1:30 p.m.) locked it, and walked to the ER, toward a masked woman with an ID badge. I introduced myself, and she welcomed me, opened the door and walked me into a reception area where I had to fill out several forms. I did that (with shaky hands) and then was walked to a small ER cubicle and asked to lie down on the gurney. Several nurses came in to place my ID bracelet on, take my vital signs—my blood pressure (flat on my back) was 200/100! And place an IV line in my left arm.

Then the ER Physician—also in mask—arrived. He was nice. Got my story, and had the RNs clean up the wound so they could visualize it. He then said that they would do a CT scan which would tell them more about my situation. I asked for a mask, which the MD thought was a good idea, and I finally was given one after several more requests.

After a while, someone came to take me on the gurney to the CT room. I felt slightly nauseated on the ride, but got there, got transferred to the CT bed, and got positioned. At this point I was feeling even less pain and was beginning to feel that they would not find anything. After several minutes, the CT was done, and they helped me get back on the gurney for the ride back to my room. I asked to have my head up more because I was feeling nausea and sweating… they obliged. And I made it back.

Now I felt a need to pee and asked to go to the toilet. After some time, a nurse came in and helped me get up to go to the restroom, which was maybe 25 feet down the hall. I relieved myself, using paper towels to avoid touching anything in the room, but when I went to wash my hands there was no soap in the dispenser! I reported this to a guard and went back to my room.

CT Results: After some time (seemed like a long time) the MD returned and said, “Susan, you are a lucky person (from the discharge summary). “Today, you received a gunshot wound to the side of your head. Your CT scan shows the slug still in place under the skin, but no involvement underneath the skull. In this case we’ll discharge you using wound precautions, keeping the area clean and taking an antibiotic.…for 5 days. In cases like this, usually the slug is left in place…however if it causes more problems it may be surgically removed. Follow up with your family practice doctor.”

I was given a topical and an oral antibiotic and signed papers to leave (hands still shaky).

The RN brought a canister of soap, but when I got up to wash up in the sink in my ER room there was no water! So, I had to head back to the communal restroom and wash up there. Then (at 3 p.m.), I walked unescorted out to the car and home, hoping that Rachel (my daughter and caretaker) would be there…

She was not there, so I called her and told her I needed her to come home and also what had happened to me. She was upset that I had not called but promised to be home soon. My son, Ezra, had called while I was in the ER and promised to come to the house, too. In the meanwhile, I entered my house, washed my hands, put on my nightgown, and went to bed. Before Rachel arrived, my primary physician called to verify the discharge report and to make sure I was okay. I thanked her and promised to follow up.

Rachel arrived, followed by Ezra, and we relived the experience together—with sobs and with hugs.

* * *

It is now weeks later, and I am feeling well. The pain at the wound is virtually gone as is the difficulty opening my mouth to eat (temporal-mandibular joint). I am not as physically active as I was, but I am doing yoga and qi gong at home. And I have taken short walks without problem.


First, I feel grateful to the universe that the damage is minimal…and that I am ALIVE. It could have been so much worse.

Second, I am grateful to my children who are loving caregivers and to close family and friends who know about this and have called to express their love and concern.

I have been interviewed by three sets of police called to investigate: Davis (while still in the hospital) and 2 teams from Sacramento. I have tried to share with them all that I remember, and I hope they manage to find the shooter because he/she will probably keep shooting.

When it happened, I thought that maybe the shooter was upset about our protest and thinks immigrants should disappear. Or maybe he/she was trying to shoot the police in the car in front of me. Now I feel that this motive piece is less important than the fact of the shooting…How to stop all the shooting/maiming/killing in our country is the more important issue.

I do have my doubts that a felony conviction is the right sentence. Our “justice” system needs fixing. This person should not have a gun, but twenty years (or whatever) in our prisons is not the way to deal with shooters…We need to push for restorative justice.

Finally, I have learned that we are all vulnerable to assaults: from corona, from a bullet, or whatever. We each need to figure out as best we can how to keep ourselves, our families, our communities safe and sound. We must be vigilant. But with love and hope, not with fear.

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About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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2 thoughts on “MY STORY: I Was Shot in My Car while Protesting Treatment of Immigrant Detainees by ICE”

  1. Dave Hart

    What a bizarre story.  First of all, shot in her car and it never appeared in any newspaper.  Susan is a badass (in the most reverential sense) but wonder if her head is subject to a subpoena to make a ballistics match if by some remote chance a weapon is found.  Maybe the bullet, as evidence, is safer left where it is but that is an outrageous thought all on it’s own.  On the same day, 22 comments about the ARC and not one about a gunshot wound. Susan Pelican, peace be with you and with all your family.

  2. Alan Miller

    This is a fascinating and bizarre story, brought all the more real by being on one of own residents.  I am both amazed and thankful that you are alive.  Who knows if this was aimed at SP or at the police.  I am not necessarily a supporter of the politics the protest was about, but I have deep respect for any activists willing to go out and peacefully make a scene to get attention for what they believe in.  Though, even when the white supremacists were battling it out with the “anti”-fascists with big sticks on the Capitol lawn, while the CHP sat back on their horses, amused, no one pulled out a firearm.  Firing a gun is one hell of an escalation.

    I am not sure what some of the details of the story were about, though her complete recall made the story feel very honest and real.  Also no conspiratorial conclusions about what happened based on politics, nor hating on the police — again much appreciated and makes it all feel very real.  I am actually fascinated by what happened and really hope the Vanguard follows up on this if there are any breaks in the case (unlike the Mace Boulevard Motel 6 / Taco Bell story, the outcome of which is still unknown to readers).  Also wondered is SP knew if the police car in front of her seemed to hear the gunshot or react to it — or was she too much in shock and trying to save herself.

    SP, it’s one in 10-million this happened to you, plus one in a thousand you got hit in the head without dying or major injury.   To say you are either unlucky, or lucky, has no meaning in the context of this impossibly bizarre happening.

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