Man Attacked in Charlottesville Charged With Assault in Unexpected Turn
In this Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017 photo, DeAndre Harris, bottom is assaulted in a parking garage beside the Charlottesville police station after a white nationalist rally was disbursed by police.Zach D. Roberts / AP file
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DeAndre Harris, the black man whose beating by a group of white men in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August sparked a virtual manhunt for his attackers, was charged with felony assault on Tuesday.
A white man involved in an earlier brawl that day said he was injured by Harris, and authorities drew up an arrest warrant.
But a lawyer for Harris said it wasn’t his client who committed the assault. Instead, he said, it was a group of white men.
For weeks after being attacked, Harris found himself at the center of a social media firestorm. He’d been beaten bloody by a half-dozen white men at the “Unite the Right” rally-turned-riot in Charlottesville, where a group of white nationalists and Nazis clashed violently with counter-protesters.
Video of Harris being pummeled with pipes and boards made the rounds in the media as online activists launched a virtual manhunt for his attackers. Two men would later be arrested and charged with malicious wounding, a felony.
The last that many people saw of Harris, a 20-year-old African-American, was images of blood pouring from his face and scalp as he stumbled from the scene of the brutal beating. But after months of remaining relatively incognito, as his supporters continue to push for the arrest of the other men involved in his attack, Harris became one of the men charged with a crime.
On Tuesday, a magistrate in Charlottesville issued a warrant for his arrest, accusing him of "unlawful wounding."
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Harris’ attorney, S. Lee Merritt, said the man who claimed to be injured by Harris was Harold Ray Crews, a North Carolina-based attorney, who is described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a member of the League of the South, which the SPLC lists as a hate group.
Merritt described the warrant being issued by a magistrate as “strange.”
He said the evidence Crews presented was a video of a scuffle that included Harris and Crews, with Crews trying to spear Harris with a flagpole and Harris swinging back with a flashlight. Merritt said the video presented by Crews does not prove that Harris committed a felony assault. It barely proves that he struck Crews at all, he said.
“It was a flimsy swing. It would not have justified the kind of charges brought in this case," Merritt said.
He provided NBC News with another video clip shot the day of the riot that shows a group of white men pummeling Crews, one of them striking Crews in the head with a blunt object.
"If there’s medical evidence of significant injury, it’s more likely that it was a result of this incident, when he was struck in the head while he was completely off guard,” Merritt said. “This occurred when DeAndre was already in the hospital.”
The charge of unlawful wounding, a felony, requires great bodily injury, he added.
Crews did not respond to NBC News' multiple requests for comment.
Meanwhile, Merritt said he and Harris haven’t arranged a time for his surrender yet, but that they’re cooperating with Charlottesville police.
“DeAndre was really surprised by this. He had a fair amount of trepidation that kept him out of the city of Charlottesville for quite some time. This has only increased that fear that there’s some sort of conspiracy to get him to come down to Charlottesville so they can finish the job that they started,” Merritt said. “He’s really had a difficult time at it.”
Before the attack, Harris was working as a full-time teacher’s assistant in the city and preparing for the start of a new school year. But ever since, he’s been something of a recluse, his lawyer said.
Merritt described how Harris tried to pick up where he left off in the classroom but became racked with fear and anxiety. Large, crowded public spaces made him feel sunken and paralyzed. The trauma was so debilitating that he had to move back home with his family more than two and a half hours away, the lawyer said. Since then he’s undergone physical therapy to help heal his physical wounds, but has yet to fully address the psychological wounds that he suffered that day.
“This is, in my opinion, clearly an exploitation of the criminal justice system,” Merritt said. “The person who is the complainant in the case is an attorney and it feels like he used some of his lawyer friends to manufacture some of these charges that never should have gone forward.”
Trymaine Lee is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who covers guns, poverty and education for msnbc.com. Prior to joining msnbc Lee was a senior reporter with the Huffington Post, where he covered national stories that impacted the black community.