A black man brutally beaten at last year’s “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 lawyer and state chairman of the self-described white nationalist group League of the South. If Harris had been convicted, he would have faced up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine.
The acquittal is a relief for Harris, who was 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 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 supporters of white nationalism, which is focused on the goal of achieving a whites-only state.
Before issuing his ruling Friday, 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.
The judge condemned the Unite the Right ralliers and counterprotesters.
“The behavior I’ve seen is appalling,” he said. “I can say this without question — that there was bad behavior all around.”
He also defended Crews. “I didn’t see that he did anything wrong that day at all.”