County Attorney offers plea deal to Darryn Davis’ assailant

By Ron Feemster
— July 2, 2013

The Fremont County Attorney’s office has offered a plea agreement to James E. “Skip” Crooks, who severely injured Darryn Davis, a Northern Arapaho man, outside a Riverton sports bar four months ago.

James Crooks listens to his lawyer, Scott Stinson, before the hearing begins on May 27.

James Crooks listens to his lawyer, Scott Stinson, before the hearing begins on May 27. Crooks returns to this court on July 9 to consider a plea to misdemeanor assault. (Ron Feemster/WyoFile — click to view)

Instead of the felony charges of aggravated assault and battery, which he faces now, Crooks would plead guilty to misdemeanor simple assault, serve 14 days in jail, and be put on probation for one year, said H. Michael Bennett, the Fremont County Attorney.

According to witnesses and police testimony, only one punch was thrown in the altercation. A witness testified in an earlier court hearing that when Crooks hit Davis in the face, Davis was lifted off his feet and propelled backwards in the air before he landed on the back of his head.

Riverton doctors ordered Davis airlifted to Wyoming Medical Center in Casper, where a trauma team put him into an induced coma to treat swelling in his brain and performed reconstructive surgery on his face.

Davis, 24 at the time of the attack, is the child of a Northern Arapaho mother and an African American father. Crooks, also 24, is white. Davis claims, and Crooks denies, that Crooks used a racial slur before he struck Davis.

Bennett declined to comment further on the steep reduction in both the charges against Crooks and the potential penalties he faces.

“It is my policy not to comment on any active case,” Bennett said. “A plea agreement could always be rejected by the judge.”

Scott Stinson, the Cody-based defense attorney representing Crooks, said he is willing to listen to the plea agreement but is not necessarily advising his client to take it.

“I am confident about our case,” Stinson said. Stinson said his client will claim that he acted in self-defense.

If Crooks accepts the plea agreement, it is almost certain to outrage Northern Arapaho leaders who complained to the FBI and NAACP, among others, when Riverton police delayed the arrest of Crooks for a week after the incident.

Tribal leaders could not be reached because of sun dance ceremonies on the reservation last week, but in informal conversations over the weekend, three Northern Arapaho members all said Crooks has been offered a better deal than any Native man could expect in similar circumstances.

Kay Davis and her son, Darryn Davis at their home in Riverton. Davis underwent reconstructive facial surgery after being punched by his childhood friend, James "Skip" Crooks. Crooks is charged with aggravated assault, a felony.

Kay Davis and her son, Darryn Davis at their home in Riverton. (Ron Feemster/WyoFile — click to view)

“It is my belief that no Native American would be given this kind of plea agreement,” Sergio Maldonado, diversity coordinator and liberal arts instructor at Central Wyoming College, said in an email. “If the situation were reversed, Darryn Davis would never be afforded this type of plea agreement. Darryn is a double man of color, both Northern Arapaho and African American. [Even] in light of his near death experience, the court system deems him less than ‘worthy’ of an equitable distribution of justice by the mere suggestion of a plea agreement. Crooks must face the felony charge.”

Davis himself is not happy, although he complains loudest about the reduction in charges.

“I don’t feel that justice is being done with 14 days and a year probation,” Davis said. “I was getting ready to go to court.”

Davis has returned to work at the Wind River Casino and stays with his mother and sisters in Riverton. Crooks is living with his girlfriend and infant child in Hudson and received permission under a bail agreement to work outside Fremont County.

The case is currently in Fremont District Court in Lander for trial before Judge Norman E. Young. It was bound over after arraignment in front of Judge Wesley A. Roberts in the Ninth Circuit Court in Riverton.

In order to begin misdemeanor plea negotiations in Judge Roberts’ courtroom in Riverton, Crooks will be arraigned at 9 a.m. on July 9 on the additional charge of reckless endangerment.

“I consented to this [new charge] to get the case back in front of Judge Roberts,” said Stinson, the defense attorney.

If no plea deal can be struck, or if Crooks or the judge vetoes it, the case will return to Lander for Crooks’ trial on felony charges. A pretrial conference has been set for August 16.

One issue that may extend the plea negotiations is restitution. Davis faces more than $72,000 in medical bills related to the incident, according to his own calculations.

The bill from Wyoming Medical Center comes to $54,000. Riverton Memorial Hospital has charged Davis $18,000, he said. And Davis says he is not sure that he has seen the last of the medical bills.

Darryn Davis today.

Darryn Davis today. (Ron Feemster/WyoFile — click to enlarge)

It is not clear how much restitution, if any, Crooks would have to pay if he takes the plea.

“Restitution has been discussed,” Stinson said. “But if you were to ask me if the details of restitution have been worked out, I would say that we are not in the ballpark.”

From the beginning, the case has confounded observers who knew both men as young teens. The two were friends and sports teammates in middle school. They often spent time at each other’s homes in Riverton. They lost touch when they attended different high schools, but continued to be standouts in athletics. Each won three state championships, Davis as point guard on the St. Stephen’s basketball team and Crooks as a 215-pound wrestler for Green River.

Both have been in trouble with the law. According to Sweetwater County court records, Crooks’ failure to complete probation on a teenage sex offense earned him a felony conviction on the charge as an adult. After repeated violations of probation, Crooks spent more than two years in the state penitentiary in Rawlins. He was released in September 2011 and had been off parole just a month when he punched Davis.

Davis was convicted of driving while intoxicated as a minor, as well as “minor in possession of alcohol” and shoplifting as an adult. He was never sentenced to jail. He completed probation successfully, according to court records.

— 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 ron@wyofile.com.

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Published on July 2, 2013

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