Readers blasted WyoFile and me for our post this week about a violent encounter in Riverton between two boyhood friends, Darryn Davis and James “Skip” Crooks.
After Crooks punched Davis outside Bomber’s Bar on Main Street, Davis was flown to Casper for reconstructive facial surgery. Crooks was arrested and charged with felony aggravated assault. However, the Riverton police did not arrest Crooks until a week had passed. The incident, and especially the delay in the arrest, outraged the local Native community, especially the Northern Arapaho tribe. Davis, the son of an African American father and a Northern Arapaho mother, is an enrolled member of the tribe.
Readers took us to task for two reasons that I take seriously. I paid too little attention to Davis’ criminal record, which I will discuss below, and I did not give Crooks credit for his sports accomplishments.
Like Davis, Crooks won three state high school championships. He took the 215-pound state wrestling title three times for Green River High School. More than a local sensation, Crooks was a nationally ranked grappler in his weight class. Crooks also played football at Green River.
“He was a good kid for us,” said Darren Heslep, the wrestling coach at Green River High School. “He had problems, like some kids do. But he did well for us.”
After graduation, Crooks attended Western Wyoming Community College in Rock Springs on a wrestling scholarship and qualified for the national NJCAA tournament at 197 pounds. He violated team rules and did not make the trip to the national tournament, according to Art Castillo, the Western wrestling coach. Castillo was an assistant under Blake Gunter when Crooks competed for the team. Gunter did not return repeated calls to discuss Crooks’ career at Western. Crooks did not return for his second year at Western.
I thank the commenter who named himself “the milkdud” for calling my attention to Crooks’ high school wrestling career. This commenter says he is an African American who trains in mixed-martial-arts fighting with Crooks. I wrote to him several days ago, thanking him for his comments and inviting him to call me and discuss Crooks at greater length. I have not heard from him.
Grateful as I am, I must also point out that some remarks from “the milkdud” and others come off as laughable in their misguided machismo. I’m not going to address the notion that Davis, who was knocked senseless and treated for brain swelling, should have “taken it like a man.”
Nor will I accept as evidence of Crooks’ moderation that he threw “only” one punch. One commenter suggests that if Crooks had meant to hurt Davis, he would have “continued with the whipping Darryn had coming.” Seriously? He would have beaten a bleeding, unconscious man on the ground? This is not the sort of “support” that will help a man accused of aggravated assault.
In addition to the one-sided references to Crooks’ criminal record and Davis’ sports career, readers accused WyoFile of making a “bar fight” into a racial incident. Never mind that a witness quoted by police in court documents alleges that Crooks uttered a racial slur before he threw his punch. Or that police say this slur was among the things Davis recalled when he regained consciousness in the hospital. In addition, it was the reservation leaders (not WyoFile) who called the FBI, the Department of Justice and the NAACP when they perceived an unjustified delay in arresting Crooks. Race was a part of this story from the instant a punch was thrown. Not covering race would have been unbalanced.
Finally, we emphasized in the post that the stories told by the two sides diverge throughout. I wrote that Davis sees an unprovoked attack outside a bar and that Crooks’ lawyer calls it self-defense. We noted that the Native community found it unfair to not to arrest Crooks until week after the incident, but that the defense felt it was poor police work to arrest him so soon. There were two sides to the story. Both of them are in our report. That, dear readers, is what balanced coverage looks like.
As some readers pointed out, Darryn Davis has been in trouble with the law in the past. A check under his name in Fremont County District Court showed no felony charges and no civil claims valued above $5,000.
In Riverton Circuit Court, Davis has pleaded guilty as a juvenile to one count of driving under the influence of alcohol and one count of driving without a valid driver license, according to court records. As an adult, he pleaded guilty to minor-in-possession of alcohol at age 20 and to one count of misdemeanor larceny for shoplifting items worth $7.99 from a Maverik store in Riverton. He has paid fines and been on probation. He has done a few days in jail awaiting court appearances, and received suspended jail sentences. He has never been sent to jail by a judge. I have yet to check the tribal court records. If he has a record there, we will report it.
In our story, I wrote that Crooks “was somehow convicted at age 19 on a charge of taking sexual liberties with a minor. The charges went back to a six-month relationship he had at age 15 and 16 with a 14-year-old girl, according to court documents in Sweetwater County.”
That word “somehow” should convey that I felt such punishment made little sense, given what I knew at the time. Even so, my conversations with the clerk of court in Green River and with the Department of Corrections left no doubt about the facts. So this week I traveled to Green River to take a firsthand look at the court documents. I learned that there is more to that story, which we will address in a future post in this blog.
But before I get to that post, let’s clear up something else that upset our readers. Some objected to my decision to write about crimes Crooks committed as a juvenile. We need to be clear that Crooks’ own actions led to his juvenile record becoming a public adult record. Had he successfully completed probation, his juvenile court records would have been sealed. Choices that Crooks made, not editorial choices that WyoFile made, led to his conviction on adult felony counts stemming from those juvenile offenses. Had he behaved otherwise, he could have gone on with his life and never would have been incarcerated.
Finally, remembering that Wyoming has no hate crime statute, I would like to pose a question for our readers. How, if at all, are these two crimes different? In one case, I punch you in the face because you insult my girlfriend. In the second case, I punch you in the face because your skin color is different from mine.
I’m not taking a stand here on why James Crooks hit Darryn Davis. But I am trying to redirect the conversation to a question that I see beneath the surface of many comments in the last post. Why do we ask why one person injures another?
Are we solely interested in establishing motive for the purpose of obtaining a conviction or proving mitigating circumstances like self-defense? Or should we ask ‘why?’ in order to discriminate between different types of offenses? If I hit you because I hate all people who look like you, have I committed a different crime than when I smash you in the face because of what I think you — you personally — did to injure me?
We welcome all comments at WyoFile, provided they meet a minimum standard of civility. But I would especially welcome your reflections on how, if at all, you believe motives change the nature of crimes.
— 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 and 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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