Assault outside Riverton bar roils reservationBy Ron Feemster March 19, 2013
James “Skip” Crooks, a 24-year-old from Hudson who has spent more time in the correctional system than out of it since his 18th birthday, threw a single punch outside Bomber’s Sports Bar in Riverton 10 nights ago and knocked out a childhood friend he had barely seen in a decade. Crooks is white. Darryn Davis, the man he hit, is the son of a black father and a Northern Arapaho mother.
Those are the basic facts that everyone agrees on. If the story ended there, the incident might have merited only a few lines in a daily police report. We would never have covered it in WyoFile, where people and policy trump crime every week of the year. But this was no ordinary punch and, if you look back far enough, no ordinary pair of long lost friends. Nor does the discussion of the incident look like the fallout from an ordinary bar fight.
In the early morning hours of March 9, doctors at Riverton Memorial Hospital examined Davis, also 24, who had been knocked senseless on the sidewalk outside the bar. They flew him to Wyoming Medical Center, where a neurosurgeon treated his brain swelling and performed reconstructive surgery on his face. The Casper doctors put him in an induced coma, where he lay among family and friends who prayed for his survival.
Crooks “fled the scene,” as Mike Broadhead, chief of police in Riverton put it yesterday. But shortly after the incident, he would contact a lawyer and then volunteer to come in and make a statement to the police. But when a week went by before that happened, the reservation community began clamoring for an arrest. Broadhead was soon fielding calls from the FBI, the NAACP the Department of Justice and members of the Northern Arapaho Tribe. Riverton detectives arrested Crooks on Saturday afternoon, three days before he was due to speak with the police.
“If the police were smart, they would have let my client come in and make a statement,” said Scott Stinson, Crooks’ defense attorney. He spoke to WyoFile after Crooks was arraigned on a charge of felony aggravated assault in Riverton Circuit Court on Monday. “Now they’ve gone and arrested him. They’re not going to hear anything from him.”
Broadhead says Crooks’ option to speak to detectives is still open, and that the situation he faces now would not be much different than what he could have expected before an arrest.
“He would have faced a Miranda situation,” Broadhead said, noting that detectives would have to read the suspect in an assault case his rights before an interview. “We’ll be happy to sit down with Mr. Crooks and take a statement any day.”
In the meantime, the stories being told by the two sides do not match. Davis remembers meeting Crooks at Bomber’s in January, where he says his old friend snubbed him, perhaps with a racial motive. Crooks’ lawyer said in court at the arraignment that Crooks was defending himself against Davis, who threw the first punch. Davis denies this. Davis says Crooks spoke a racial slur before he threw his punch. Stinson says the entire incident was just a bar fight. It was never about race at all.
And when one looks back into their lives, it seems odd that the two men fought at all. They spent hundreds of hours together as children. Their friendship resembled a storybook case of racial harmony more than a foundation for violent conflict a decade later.
Darryn Davis is an enrolled member of the Northern Arapaho tribe who was raised by a single mother. He was a sports star on the reservation, the starting point guard on a team that won three 1A state basketball championships at St Stephen’s Indian School.
Skip, as Darryn still calls him, was a white kid raised by a single father. He played on the offensive line that protected Darryn, quarterback of the football team when they attended Riverton Middle School. The two boys had known each other well for years by then.
When they were in grade school, Skip’s father left for work long before the school bus arrived. He would drop Skip at Darryn’s home, where Kay Davis, Darryn’s mom, put an extra Pop-Tart in the toaster for her son’s friend. Skip’s dad was grateful for the help, Kay remembers. He took Darryn hunting and often sent extra food home for the Davis family when the boys had dinner at Skip’s house.
Kay Davis also remembers giving Skip his Ritalin tablet before school in the morning and wondering why the school called her instead of his father when Skip misbehaved on the school bus. It turned out that Kay Davis was listed as one of Skip’s emergency contacts at the school.
When Darryn transferred to St. Stephen’s in ninth grade, the two boys lost contact. Darryn graduated, spent a semester each at two different colleges, fathered a son, and went to work for the Wind River Casino.
Skip moved to Green River with his father during high school, where he began a long series of run-ins with the justice system. He went on adult probation at the age of 18 for possession of marijuana, and 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.
Four months later he violated probation for the second time and was sentenced to three to seven years in the state penitentiary, according to the Department of Corrections. He completed a boot camp in Newcastle and was released on probation again at the age of 20. Just over two months later, he violated probation again and was returned to Rawlins. He was incarcerated from June 2009 until he was paroled in September 2011.
Crooks completed parole successfully on January 6, just about the time Davis says he saw him at Bomber’s. It was the first day in nearly six years that he was free of oversight by the Wyoming Department of Corrections. Now, just two months later, he is awaiting trial on a charge of aggravated assault. A half dozen family members appeared in court for Crooks yesterday, including his newborn son and his girlfriend.
The reservation community has rallied around Davis and blamed the police for dragging their feet on the investigation. “If the Native guy had hit the white guy and sent him to Casper,” the argument goes, “he would have been in jail the same night.” Why should Crooks be walking free when Davis was fighting for his life in the hospital?
At first, Chief Broadhead seemed unmoved by the protests. He told WyoFile on Thursday, almost a week after the incident that the investigation would take its course at its own speed. Until detectives met with Davis, the victim, and interviewed Crooks with his lawyer, the community would have to wait for an arrest. Assault investigations can take a while, Broadhead said, especially when the crime takes place at a bar, the witness statements are inconsistent, and many witnesses were drunk.
But as Broadhead admits today, his department got off on the wrong foot with Kay Davis, who was frustrated when Casper detectives instead of Riverton detectives showed up at Darryn’s hospital bed. She would take no excuses until the Riverton department arrived. Davis and her advocates reached out to the Department of Justice and the NAACP, among other groups. Broadhead felt the pressure.
“Her concerns that we were not doing enough may have eventually come true if we had not done anything,” Broadhead said. As the calls from outside groups kept coming, Broadhead said that he began to reconsider his strategy.
He wondered: “Taken in totality, do we legitimately have need to continue the investigation? We tried to look at it from the perspective of the victim’s family. Are they really getting the support they need?” His detectives made the arrest ahead of the meeting scheduled with Crooks and his lawyer.
Monday, Broadhead mentioned getting a call from Layha Spoonhunter, an organizer of the March Against Racism planned for Saturday, March 23, to rally support for Davis. A benefit powwow helped raise money for T-shirts. Davis’s sisters are slated to speak at the rally after marchers walk for City Park in Riverton to the Wind River Casino. The reservation community shows no signs of easing up on the pressure.
By the day of the march, Crooks may be out on bail. His bond was set at $10,000 cash or $25,000 surety, which would require him or his family to put up about 10 percent of the sum in cash with a bail bondsman and sufficient collateral to guarantee his appearance in court. A preliminary hearing is set for March 27 in Riverton Circuit Court.
— 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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