Two months ago, a 20-year-old black man named DeAndre Harris was bludgeoned by white nationalists at a far-right rally in Charlottesville, Va., an incident captured in a video that went viral and spurred accusations that police were not doing enough to bring his attackers to justice.
On Wednesday, police were preparing to make an arrest that seemed likely to intensify that criticism: They were negotiating with Harris to turn himself in on a felony assault charge of unlawful wounding for what his lawyer said was an alleged attack on a white supremacist at the rally.
“It’s very upsetting,” said the attorney, S. Lee Merritt. “It seems the judicial system in this case has bent over backwards 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. Crews did not return a phone call or answer an email seeking comment.
Crews originally went to the Charlottesville Police Department, but when that didn’t work, Merritt said, he persuaded a Charlottesville magistrate to file the charge and issue an arrest warrant. Police said the warrant was issued Monday, but it has not been made public.
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 were injured after 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 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.
“I was chased and beat with metal poles,” Harris wrote on GoFundMe, where he set up a campaign to help pay his medical expenses. “I was knocked unconscious repeatedly. Every time I went to stand up I was knocked back down. If it was not for my friends that I came with I would have been beaten to a pulp.”
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.
Merritt said it appears Crews was injured at the rally, but not by his client.
At one point, Harris swung a flashlight to stop Crews from spearing another counter-protester with the 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.
He said a video of a “completely separate” incident shows Crews being struck in the head by an unidentified white male wearing black.
By then, Harris was already at the Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital’s emergency room being treated for injuries, Merritt said.
The arrest warrant for Harris was issued 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.”
Once Harris is taken in to custody, police said, a magistrate will give him a court date and determine bond.
Detective Sgt. Jake Via, the supervising detective on the Harris case, emphasized that his department had not issued the warrant against Harris.
In a statement, Charlottesville police said the alleged “victim went to the magistrate’s office, presented the facts of what occurred and attempted to obtain the warrant.” After a detective “verified the facts,” the judge issued a warrant for unlawful wounding, a felony charge that carries a penalty of up to five years in prison.
Activists recently identified another man allegedly involved in the attack on Harris and are celebrating his arrest.
On Tuesday, Jacob Goodwin, 22, was taken into custody 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.
Goodwin is being held at a detention center in Lonoke County until he’s extradited to Virginia, said Lt. Matt Edwards, a spokesman for the Sheriff’s Office. Edwards did not know the specific charge against Goodwin, but said his extradition hearing was scheduled for Friday morning.
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.”
Jarvie is a special correspondent.