What was portrayed as a vicious, unprovoked “knock out game” and “Clockwork Orange” style attack on a white couple by a group of black males on the Downtown Mall, both on social media and in initial press reports, appears to have been nothing of the sort.
“Nothing in support of this investigation leads us to believe this was a “knock out” attack,” said Charlottesville Police Chief Tim Longo during a press conference on Wednesday, January 8 announcing that 25-year-old Malcolm James Stevenson and 23-year-old Richard Bernard Spears, both of Charlottesville, had been arrested and charged with assault. They were released that same day and must appear in court on February 5.
Based on interviews with the suspects and the victims, 39-year old Marc Adams and Jeanne Doucette, Longo said that the incident that happened between Blue Light Grill and the Wells Fargo Bank building at approximately 1:40am on December 20 “began as a verbal confrontation” between the two parties after Stevenson and Spears “mocked and laughed” at Adams after he’d tripped and fell on the Mall, then “escalated into a physical confrontation.”
Previously, Adams and Doucette, both on Facebook posts and in a interview with Cville Weekly, claimed to have had no involvement in initiating the confrontation, which they characterized as a “knock out” game and “Clockwork Orange” style attack without rhyme or reason. That characterization, dramatized in Cville Weekly, quickly went viral after the story was re-posted on the Drudge Report, fueled by the perception that three black males had attacked a white couple for mere sport and entertainment. Needless to say, that version of events prompted some racially charged opinions and comments and blog posts (“Black Mob Violence in Charlottesville“), which became so hostile that Cville Weekly’s editor decided to shut down the comment section. The Cville Weekly story also highlighted the opinion of Adams and Doucette that the police had been slow to respond to their case and that they “didn’t seem to care” about seeking justice, which prompted public outrage against the police, and stoked fears that the Mall was an unsafe and dangerous place.
Like a game of Post Office gone terribly wrong, the story was used to advance all manner of opinions and theories, everything from proof that white people were under attack by black people, that police were part of a conspiracy to withhold information, that newspaper editors were conspiring to censor the truth, and that this was all really about having a more compassionate and frank dialogue about race in America. In reality, so far as the police investigation and a previous story in the DTM reveal, this appears to have simply been a fight, triggered perhaps by alcohol and a hostile exchange of words, with Adams and Doucette taking the worst of it. Longo also appeared to be calling into question the extent of of the injuries that Adams claimed to have suffered, saying the investigation so far revealed that Adams had suffered only “damage to a tooth and some soft tissue injury.” That appears to be reflected in the level of the charges filed against Stevenson and Spears, which amount to a simple assault, not the aggravated assault it was first made out to be.
Stevenson and Spears, who, according to Longo, turned themselves in on their own and cooperated fully with investigators, clearly attacked Adams and Doucette after that “exchange of words,” but what motivated the attack is still unclear. Indeed, why would Stevenson and Spears, who have no history of violent criminal activity, according to court records, have attacked Adams so aggressively?
As previously reported by the DTM, two separate sources, who wished to remain anonymous, but who were questioned by detectives in the investigation, said that Doucette told people that Adams had “said something that provoked the men.” Longo did not offer any specifics on what might have been said, saying it was “not really clear what the exchange had been.” As previously reported, sources the DTM spoke to said the attackers were known to be gay, and that they may have been angered by specific comments uttered by Adams and/or Doucette. Indeed, Stevenson, who delivered the majority blows to Adams, has a profile on a social media website called spring.me, under the handle “luverangel,” on which he reveals that he knew he was gay when he was 12-years old. Stevenson also appears in a video of the former Hook Newspaper’s “Question of the Week” feature, answering a question in May, 2011 about what he was going to do for the summer.
While Longo has admitted that a communication “breakdown” caused the case not to be assigned to investigators as soon as it could have, during and interview with the DTM, he bristled at the suggestion that his police force had acted negligently, or that they weren’t concerned about solving the case. As detailed previously in the DTM, the behavior of the victims had as much to do with the progress of the case as the internal communication breakdown. As Longo reiterated at the press conference, Adams refused to file a report with an officer at the scene, refused even to provide his name or have his injuries photographed, and refused medical attention, as did Doucette. It wasn’t until 24 hours later that Adams, after posting on Facebook about the incident, decided to call police. And, of course, as stories in the DTM suggest, and the police investigation seems to confirm, both Adams and Doucette may have been less than forthcoming about the circumstances surrounding the incident when they first posted on Facebook and spoke to the press, choosing instead to characterize the incident in a way that avoided revealing their involvement in the confrontation.
In the end, this may be a story about the power of the press, and the power of social media to dictate how events are perceived by the public. Indeed, during the DTM’s interview with Longo, it was clear the Chief knew that he was powerless to alter the growing public perception of what had happened, which so many people accepted as the truth before any investigation was completed. On the other hand, Longo and his department were clearly motivated by that public perception, which made them focus harder on solving the case.