Man beaten by white nationalists charged with assault
African American was attacked by group at Charlottesville rally.
ATLANTA — A black man who was brutally beaten as he protested a far-right rally in Charlottesville, Va., turned himself in to police Thursday after he was charged with assaulting a white, self-described “Southern nationalist.”
DeAndre Harris’ bludgeoning by a group of white nationalists was captured in a video that went viral and spurred accusations that police were not doing enough to bring his attackers to justice.
The arrest of Harris, a 20-year-old hip-hop artist and former teacher’s aide, seemed likely to intensify that criticism. After Charlottesville police served Harris with a warrant at 8:30 a.m. Thursday charging him with “unlawful wounding” — a felony charge that carries up to five years in prison — Harris was taken before a magistrate judge and released on bond.
“It’s very upsetting,” said attorney S. Lee Merritt, who insists Harris is innocent of the charge. “It seems the judicial system in this case has bent over backward to further assist in further victimizing DeAndre.”
Merritt said the person who brought the complaint against Harris is Harold Crews, chairman of the North Carolina chapter of the League of the South, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled a neo-Confederate group that advocates for an American society dominated by people of European ancestry.
Harris was not handcuffed or placed in a cell, Merritt said. After an arraignment Friday, his next court appearance will be a preliminary hearing set for mid-December.
While it is clear that Crews was injured — he submitted evidence of a scar and severe injuries from an attack — Merritt said that based on the video evidence, “it’s not physically possible it could be an attack by DeAndre Harris.”
At one point, Harris swung a flashlight to stop Crews from spearing another counter-protester with the pole of a Confederate flag, but he “failed to make significant contact,” Merritt said. “A felony-level assault — that involves pretty serious injury, a maiming or attempted-murder-type injury,” he said.
A video of a “completely separate” incident shows Crews being struck in the head by an unidentified white male wearing black. But by then, Merritt said, Harris was already at the Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital’s emergency room being treated for injuries.
The Aug. 12 clash between Harris and a group of white men took place at the Unite the Right rally, where hundreds of white supremacists marched in Charlottesville to protest the city’s plan to take down a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. A 32-year-old woman, Heather Heyer, died and 19 others were injured when a car rammed into a crowd of counter-demonstrators.
President Trump stirred controversy by blaming some of the violence on counter-protesters and appearing to put them on an equal moral footing with the racists.
Beaten in a parking garage next to the police station, Harris was hospitalized for a concussion, a fractured wrist, bruises to his elbows and a head laceration that required 12 staples.
“They were trying to kill me out there,” Harris told the Los Angeles Times the day after the rally. “The police didn’t budge, and I was getting beat to a pulp.”
Harris said that although some police officers ignored the beating, one officer eventually came to his aid.
After the attack, he resigned from his job as a special education instructional assistant.
In August, two of his alleged attackers — Alex Michael Ramos, 33, and Daniel Borden, 18 — were identified by activists through video and social media, then arrested and charged with malicious wounding.
Earlier this week, activists celebrated the arrest of Jacob Goodwin, 22, a man they identified last month as allegedly involved in the attack on Harris.
Goodwin was taken into custody Tuesday evening by U.S. marshals on a felony warrant out of Virginia, according to the Sheriff ’s Office in Lonoke County, Ark., where he is from. He is being held at a detention center in Lonoke County until he’s extradited to Virginia, said Lt. Matt Edwards, a sheriff ’s office spokesman. Edwards did not know the specific charge against Goodwin.
The arrest warrant for Harris was issued Monday, less than 48 hours after white nationalists gathered again in Charlottesville. After about 40 people held an unplanned, 10-minute rally in Emancipation Park on Saturday night, the city issued a statement saying it was unconscionable that white supremacists would return to the city to “intimidate and spread fear.”
Detective Sgt. Jake Via, the supervising detective on the Harris case, emphasized that his department had not issued the warrant against Harris.
“Any person who’s a victim of a crime can obtain a warrant if they’ve given probable cause to a magistrate and that magistrate finds probable cause is there,” he said, noting the alleged victim was required to have filed a police report.
Defending the police against criticism that it had been slow to track down the perpetrators of the attacks on Harris, Via said that “investigations take time.”
“They’re not done overnight, just because people send us videos, photos and tips,” he said. “We still have to investigate each one of those. It takes a while.”
DeANDRE HARRIS is a former teacher’s aide.