A black man brutally beaten at last year’s white supremacist “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville — and who was later charged with assaulting a white nationalist — was acquitted Friday.
DeAndre Harris, 20, a former special education instructional assistant, was found not guilty by Charlottesville General District Court Judge Robert Downer Jr. on a misdemeanor charge of assault and battery against Harold Crews, a North Carolina attorney and state chairman of The League of the South. If Harris had been convicted, he would have faced up to 12 months in jail and a $2,500 fine.
The acquittal is a relief for Harris, who was viciously beaten inside a parking garage next to the city’s police department on Aug. 12, 2017. He suffered a spinal injury and head lacerations that required 10 stitches.
Two months later, his legal path took an unexpected turn when Crews filed a police report and then persuaded a Charlottesville magistrate to issue an arrest warrant in October on a felony charge of unlawful wounding, which carries a five-year maximum sentence. The news was cheered online by white nationalists.
Before issuing his ruling, Downer warned the crowd to “restrain” their emotions. As he spoke, it was unclear how he would rule, and many attendees — nearly all of them Harris supporters — looked worried and distressed. In the end, the judge declared Harris not guilty because he said Harris did not intend to hit Crews and only swung a flashlight at him believing Crews was attacking his friend with a flagpole.
Online sleuths, led by Black Lives Matter activist and Intercept journalist Shaun King, helped track down the identities and whereabouts of several of Harris’s assailants: Jacob Scott Goodwin of Arkansas; Daniel Borden of Ohio; Alex Michael Ramos of Georgia; and Tyler Watkins Davis, of Florida. Their trials are scheduled for late April and early May, though Davis’s trial has not been set yet.
YouTube footage from the rally shows a complicated sequence of events that led up to Harris’s beating, right outside the Market Street parking garage, where dozens of members from the League of the South and Traditionalist Worker Party converged with counterprotesters.
In one piece of YouTube footage, Crews is clasping a large flagpole in front of a black protester, who is tugging on the other end. As the two of them tussle over the pole, Harris swings a flashlight at Crews, appearing to strike him on the head or shoulder.
Moments later, several white nationalists — one of them dressed in military tactical gear and holding a plastic shield — storm into the garage, chasing Harris and forcing him to the ground, where he was brutally pummeled.
Video of Harris’s beating tore through the Internet. The sheer ferocity of the assault heightened the public outcry over the rally that also included the death of 32-year-old Heather Heyer, a counterprotester who was allegedly run over by white supremacist, James Alex Fields Jr., 20. The rally was organized by white nationalists to oppose the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue from Emancipation Park.
After the event, critics questioned the strategy and planning of the Charlottesville police department, whose officers frequently stood off to the side and did not try to halt the skirmishes or get between the protesters and the counterprotesters. In December, an independent review commissioned by the city was released and concluded that the police department’s planning for the event was “inadequate and disconnected” and that the officers’ lack of preparation led to “disastrous” consequences.
The report, prepared by Timothy Heaphy, a former U.S. attorney for the Western District of Virginia, said that after Harris swung his flashlight at Crews and ran into the garage, he either tripped or was pushed to the ground. He was “defenseless against a mob of angry Alt-Right demonstrators” who mauled him with flagsticks, shields and pieces of wood, the report said.
When Harris escaped, the report said, he was found by Charlottesville Sheriff James Brown. By then, the report said, Harris’s head had been split open, and he was bleeding.
A day after the attack, Harris set up a GoFundMe page to raise money for his medical bills — he wound up more than tripling his goal of $50,000.
“We will not let this fade & disappear. People are carrying real hate in their hearts for the Black Community,” he wrote, “and I refuse to just let it happen.”
Source: The Washington Post (Ian Shapira)
Photo Credit: Religion News Service
Photo Credit: Joshua Roberts/Reuters