One of the most enduring and shocking moments from the white nationalist march on Charlottesville this summer was the parking garage beating of counter-protester DeAndre Harris by a crowd of khaki-clad white nationalists, who swarmed around the 20-year-old with flagpoles and shields.
One of the hate group leaders involved in that clash successfully persuaded a local magistrate on Monday to issue an arrest warrant for Harris on a felony charge of “unlawful wounding,” complicating an ongoing police investigation into the men who attacked the counter-protester.
Both Harris’ lawyer and the League of the South, a neo-Confederate organization, say Harold Ray Crews, the group’s North Carolina chairman, pursued the warrant. In order to do so, he took advantage of a quirk in the judicial system, according to a Charlottesville police detective and Harris’ lawyer.
After trying to file a compliant with police, Crews apparently went to the magistrate’s office, which requires only a police report based on the complainant’s testimony and the determination of probable cause to issue a warrant. In a statement, S. Lee Merritt, Harris’ attorney, Merritt attributed the charge to a “successful campaign” by the League of the South to “manipulate the Charlottesville judiciary and further victimize Mr. Harris.” He denied that his client was involved in causing the head injuries Crews sustained.
Charlottesville police detectives and Merritt have expressed surprise that local authorities issued the warrant at all.
“This is the first time I’ve seen this situation happen,” Merritt told TPM.
In a Wednesday phone call, Merritt told TPM that Crews and his fellow League of the South members have been discussing pressing charges against Harris on their podcast, “Southern Nationalist Radio,” “for quite some time,” but that he did not expect “a magistrate to sort of decide to independently run with it.”
Charlottesville Det. Sgt. Jake Via, who is supervising the parking garage case, told the Washington Post that he, too, was “not expecting this.”
“We were expecting to do our own investigation into the man’s allegations,” Via told the newspaper.
Crews, a 48-year-old North Carolina real estate lawyer who describes himself as a “Southern Nationalist” on his Twitter bio, did not respond to TPM’s email and phone calls requesting comment. But the League of the South posted several items celebrating the pending arrest of the “young negro male” involved with “harassing their members” in the parking garage.
Crews has deep ties to the League, and the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, has reported that he runs their Facebook, website and a related YouTube channel that’s posted under his own name.
His allies have celebrated the arrest warrant as a victory for their side, with white nationalist blogger Hunter Wallace calling Harris’ charge the end of “another race hoax” and prominent white nationalist Richard Spencer cheering “the end of the Deandre Haris [sic] myth.”
Both Merritt, Harris’ attorney, and the white nationalists say they believe the copious video evidence of the incident will vindicate them. Video shows the man that Merritt says identifies as Crews trying to stab a counter-protester with the pole of a Confederate flag, and Harris swinging a flashlight in response. Merritt said in a statement that the flashlight “did not make significant contact” with Crews before Harris was kicked to the ground by six white nationalists who beat him with wooden sticks and a shield, leaving him with a cranial lacerations and several fractures. Photos show Harris bleeding profusely from his head.
According to Merritt’s statement, the injury Crews sustained to his head came from “a completely separate subsequent incident” involving a clash “between at least four white males,” which was also appears to have been captured in multiple photographs.
Three of the white nationalists involved in the parking garage beating have since been arrested.
As the Post reported, Commonwealth’s Attorney Warner “Dave” Chapman, a Democrat, will decide whether to prosecute the case once the warrant is served against Harris.
Merritt told TPM he is working with Charlottesville police to determine the terms of Harris’ surrender, but would not release the date out of “concerns about his safety and people knowing he’s in town.”
“He had to leave Charlottesville because he no longer felt safe in the city,” Merritt said of Harris, who was a resident of the city at the time of the August rally. “He couldn’t continue his job as an assistant school teacher because of anxiety that he gets around large crowds. He was doing a pretty good job recovering. But there’s still this angst of him being charged after being the recipient of this brutal attack. It’s set him back emotionally.”
This post has been updated.