Charlottesville Students Escape Hate Crimes Charges
Nine Charlottesville High School students charged in a string of assaults on University of Virginia students have escaped hate crimes charges, according to a ruling by the commonwealth’s attorney Dave Chapman (see Black Issues, March 28). Chapman decided after several weeks of investigation and deliberation that there was no basis for charging any of the teen-agers with hate crimes. “There may be some hint of race-based motivation in a small subset, but there is not proof beyond a reasonable doubt,” Chapman said of his March 28 ruling.
Two White students who were on the scene of at least one attack will not face charges in the string of assaults — a decision that stung some members of Charlottesville’s Black community.
“You’ll always have racial tension when you have Caucasians who were involved who weren’t tried,” warned the Rev. Dr. Alvin Edwards, a former mayor and head of one of the city’s most prominent African American churches, the historic Mt. Zion Baptist Church.
Meanwhile, the only person charged as an adult in the crimes, Gordon Lathan Fields, an 18-year-old gridiron star whose arrest shocked the Charlottesville community, released a separate statement explaining — and apologizing for — his role. According to the statement, Fields only became involved because he mistakenly believed a female friend was being assaulted by two men.
The explanation went on to say: “I tried to pull one of the students off of my friend and I got into a separate fight with him. What I should have done was pull my friend away from the fight, both because she was in the wrong to begin with, and because she apparently kept fighting with the person that she had attacked, and she apparently hurt him seriously.”
Describing Fields’ role in the Jan. 25 incident as “secondary,” Chapman presented a plea agreement to General District Judge Robert H. Downer in which Fields pleaded guilty to assault and battery by mob, a misdemeanor, rather than the original felony charge, malicious wounding.
Under the terms of that agreement, Fields received six months in jail, all but 30 days of which were suspended, to be served starting June 24, after school lets out. In addition, Fields must pay restitution to the three victims of the attack in which he was involved and perform 50 hours of community service or participate in the city’s “restorative justice” project, which is Mayor Blake Caravati’s project to help heal the community, victims and perpetrators after a crime has been committed.
As for the eight juveniles, both male and female, still awaiting trial in the string of assaults, their fates were expected be decided in Charlottesville Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court later this month.
According to news reports, Fields and the other teen-agers have been attending the city’s alternative school since they were arrested early in February. The juveniles will be allowed to return to Charlottesville High if they are acquitted or convicted only of misdemeanors. Fields still hopes to be able to attend college.
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