James “Skip” Crooks will face felony aggravated assault charges in Fremont County District Court for punching Darryn Davis in the face outside Bomber’s Bar in the early morning hours of March 9, Judge Wesley Roberts ruled Wednesday after a preliminary hearing in Fremont County Circuit Court on Wednesday.
Roberts ruled that Crooks would face the more serious felony charges because witnesses — primarily the police — presented adequate evidence to try Crooks as the man who intentionally threw the punch that caused serious bodily injury to Davis. Davis was flown to Casper shortly after the attack for treatment of brain swelling and reconstructive surgery on his face.
If the ruling was straightforward in the end, the testimony ranged beyond those topics and foreshadowed elements of the cases that the prosecution and defense could mount at trial.
A piece of evidence that had not surfaced in the publicly available police report suggested that Davis and Crooks may have been shouting at each other before the incident, and that Davis’ sister Muriel “Kelly” Davis at one point stood between the two men keeping them apart.
Police quoted another witness who has said that Crooks’ punch lifted Davis off his feet and propelled him backwards in the air before he landed on the back of his head.
The case has provoked strong reactions from some members of the Native community, who are outraged by Crooks’ use of a racial slur against Davis. Davis has an African American father and a Northern Arapaho mother. Crooks’ defenders, on the other hand, who see this as a bar fight and not a racial incident, were heartened by hints that the evidence may bolster a self-defense case at trial.
Crooks’ attorney, Scott Stinson, said during a break before the ruling that he felt a misdemeanor assault charge was a “better theory of the case” than the felony charge, but that he expected to see his client cleared of all charges. “Self defense is a trial strategy, not a preliminary hearing defense,” he said.
Attorneys on both sides addressed the issue of whether Crooks threw the punch “recklessly under circumstances manifesting an extreme indifference to the value of human life,” which appeared to be argued as a necessary criterion for an aggravated assault charge in Wyoming.
The prosecution brought up the point that Crooks appears to have trained and fought as a mixed martial arts fighter. County attorney Pat LeBrun argued that if Crooks hit Davis knowing that he could “pack such a punch” this was evidence of “extreme indifference.”
As it turned out, however, little evidence existed for this theory besides a photo on Crooks’ Facebook page showing him in shorts and MMA-style boxing gloves. The photo did not appear to be on Crooks’ Facebook page any longer after court.
But as the judge pointed out before he ruled, such reckless indifference is an alternate theory, not an essential ingredient of the charge of aggravated assault, provided that the prosecution can make a case that the defendant knowingly or intentionally caused serious bodily injury to the victim.
Roberts told LeBrun, in answer to the deputy county attorney’s question, that the state did not present sufficient evidence to send the case to district court on the basis of reckless action taken with extreme indifference to the value of human life.
Crooks appeared in court with a group of friends, including his girlfriend, Tori Watts. Watts and Crooks, who have a child together, report on their Facebook pages that they are engaged.
One of the men who showed up for Crooks was Omar Miller, 31, an African American originally from Baltimore. Miller lives in Riverton and says he has been friends with Crooks for nearly a year. Scott Stinson, Crooks’ attorney, invited WyoFile to photograph Miller and Crooks.
Miller said he is also friends with Darryn Davis and ran into him at Bomber’s on the night of the incident. Miller, who says he has played basketball with Davis at the parks in Riverton, did not see the punch or anything that led up to it.
“I left earlier in the night,” Miller said.
Davis was in court with his mother, two sisters and an aunt. One sister, Muriel “Kelly” Davis, briefly testified at the hearing. No trial date had been set by press time.
— Ron Feemster covers the Wind River Indian Reservation for WyoFile in addition to his duties as a general reporter. Feemster was a Visiting Professor of Journalism at the Indian Institute of Journalism & New Media in Bangalore, India, and previously taught journalism at Northwest College in Powell. He has reported for The New York Times, Associated Press, Newsday, NPR and others. Contact Ron at [email protected]
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