Assault outside Riverton bar roils reservation

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.
By 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.

James Crooks (Courtesy Fremont County Sheriff’s Office — click to view)

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 ron@wyofile.com.

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  1. Wow! Why is it always about race? I grew up in Riverton and have never experienced such hatred from another race as I have from the natives. Some of my dearest friends were native. Skip is my brother and you sir that believe him to be a woman beater are WAY off the mark! Skip is no saint for sure but no ONE is. I am married to a black man and Skip and my husband are VERY close! This incident was NOTHING more than a fight between 2 men who were intoxicated! Sorry for those of you who want to make it a “racial issue”! Good luck on your pursuit to prove it!

  2. Well put Annalisa, you are one who should have first hand knowledge of what happened, as Darryn is your brother and for this guy Skip to threaten to hit your sister? a female, that there speaks volumes of Skips character so those of you who continue to support Skip, be aware that you are condoning his character of being a potential woman beater, his colors shown through with his threat on a female, now a woman beater black, red, white, purple or pink are low lifes in my book. So the actions of this man are clear now and his credibility is thrown out the window…. so go have another drink yourself 4realman, ignorance is evident in your post

  3. If u werent there who are any of you to say what happen and what didnt happen….. and angie my brother doesnt have a clean back ground pretty sure you dont either nobody does but when skip called my brother a Nigger and cheap shoted him as he was getting in to the car how does that not justify skip wasn’t in the wrong and the fact that he asked my sister if she want to be hit too totally crossed the line. rasicm has been apart of mylife since i was in my mothers womb and not one day has gone by that i dont get that disgust look or smart remarks made about me by the white folk. Its okay though call it like you see you Darryn is my brother we maybe black and native but we LOVE IT 🙂

  4. Fact to the situation is that alcohol is a major factor in most confrontations, if both were intoxicated then both are at fault that’s the fact, as for this isolated incident, you say that race was not the motivator, maybe, maybe not, the fact is that one of Native or African American descent are quick to surmise that prejudice was a factor and that I have to say is the fault of the town of Riverton, because time and again the Natives here have been subjected to racial comments and racial tension by quite a few of the townsfolk of Riverton now that is a fact, if you Angie have not received this type of treatment with you being of mixed race yourself, that would be an extreme rare case. Truth of the matter is that racism does exist from the township of Riverton and in retaliation Native people utilize racism against the whitefolk of Riverton in defense. So regardless of who was right in this incident, truth be told that racism is here on both sides, myself being Native will always defend my people as it is well known that although Riverton is supported on the Native dollar, we will always be treated as second class from its townsfolk. That’s the fact that is well known……….

  5. Are you serious??? The issue is not racial–its a fight that occurred outside of a bar! The major factor is not color, it is alcohol! This article paints Skip as a villain and Darryn as an innocent victim. I can guarantee that Darryn is not a SAINT- if he was he wouldn’t have been at the bar in the first place. Did he have alcohol in his system? Hhhmmm, lets think about this people. If you write a story lets bring out the facts of both sides… What is Mr “Saints”, excuse me, Darryns’ reputation? Does he have a squeeky clean image, pole bearer to a church or law abiding record?
    Get the facts, don’t just point fingers at one person. The article written is completely one sided. Getting the NAACP involved is ridiculous. If anyone is an advocate against racial prejudice its Skip. Almost half of Skip’s family is Black, Asian, Hawaiian, or of mixed blood! That is a FACT! How do I know? I’m his sister-in law and I am Thai, Hawaiian, and Portuguese.
    The main fact is there was a fight outside of a bar and alcohol was involved. Hold him accountable for beating someones ASS, even if he did or didn’t deserve it. However, look at BOTH sides of the fight. If Darryns reputation is what I’m hearing…then defend your mouth. If you cant take it then don’t open your mouth.

  6. Go right ahead and try to tell us how much of an “upstanding young man” Mr. Davis is. Anybody who frequents Bombers will know you are lying. This a situation where a guy belligerently picked a fight with another guy, threw the first punch and his intended victim retaliated. Now we have a whole group of people just waiting for something like this to turn it into some race crusade. By the way, many of the people at the bar that night said Davis was calling Mr. Crook “cracker”, “honkey” & “white boy”. There is most definitely racism involved in this incident. But from people at the scene that night it points at Davis, not Crooks. If the roles in this case were reversed you’d complain it was racists that the cops arrest Mr Davis because this would obviously be a clear cut case of self defense. Give the humanitarian “I love everybody” bit a rest. You just want to see a “white boy” go to jail.

  7. Brian, you are absolutely correct. Native Americans have, and will continue to endure ignorance, prejudice, and racism. That will not change. How you handle it and allow it to affect you, should change. Native Americans account for a very small portion of the population and there are many people that are uninformed and uneducated regarding the Native American culture, although I must say, it is no longer what it used to be. Several of the Native American values that were held in such high regard are now overlooked by several Native Americans. Alcohol was never intended for Native Americans, so why embrace it so? Unfortunately, the stereotypes held by many Non-Native Americans are only fueled by discussions such as these. Why dosent the Native American population come together as one and collaborate for the future generations? Instill those values of their elders in the children now, so that future instances such as this one can be diminished. Do not allow ignorant, selfish, misguided people to have such an effect on your lives. There are good and bad people everywhere, regardless of their color. Do not allow yourself to become a part of that ugliness. There is a higher power we all have to answer to in the end, allow him to judge as he see’s fit. You, in the meantime, be a good example for those that look up to you and hope that they, in the future will do the same for those that look up to them.

  8. Human Advocate, I applaud your comment, and it is true that racism does exist on both sides of the spectrum, although my view on this is that we as Native Americans have endured this ignorance since the day the Mayflower landed and it isn’t about to change anytime soon, I felt it was my duty as a Native Man to stand up for this young man, I could go on and say that Darryn has always been an upstanding young man and all that, but I won’t because it isn’t necessary, the main point being that this type of behavior from both sides is unwarranted and need not happen in this day and age, I just am appalled at the ignorance that proliferates out of racial ethnicity, learn to deal with both sides being here its not going to change anytime soon right?

  9. Really everyone? Are we all this petty? Regardless of what stereotypes you may hold, or incidents you may have witnessed, or the ignorance you have, or even the hatred within your heart, in the end, a human being is a human being. The racism that is so apparent in this town and surrounding communities is disgusting. Point fingers all you want…there is an equal amount of racism being portrayed on each end of the spectrum. Alcohol of course is a major contributing factor, so how about we start by reducing the number of bars in Riverton and Lander? Both of these gentlemen are victims, but in the end, the fact of the matter is that someone was hurt and the person doing the hurting has to be accountable for their actions. God has blessed everyone one of us with a brain, how you use it is, of course, up to you, but you must also be accountable for whatever decisions that come out of that brain.

  10. I see all the support that Skip is receiving and the negative comments made towards Davis, you are all portraying Skip as a very nice person and saying that Davis deserved what happened to his face, come on now people, Mr. Davis had all the bones in his face broke, now for someone to exert that much force to another is evident of that individual trying to hurt someone bad. I know a thing or two about street brawls and also know when to control ones anger to the point where you just make a statement and not try to take anothers head off.
    It takes intent to do harm to be out of control to the point of breaking all the bones in one persons face from just one punch, that is if only one punch was thrown, of course that sort of punishment can happen if more than one punch was given, so everyone in support of Skip says it was one punch! maybe so, maybe not… but the fact is, Davis was injured extensively to the point of having his brain swell causing potential deadly results, if he had succumbed to his injuries, (forbid) there would have been another charge on Skip to add to his long history of run-ins with the law. If Davis was the instigator, why doesn’t his legal history portray him as such? Skip has to be held accountable and to know that he can’t go around breaking the law all the time and expect to get away with a crime that almost took the life of Davis, those who are in support of him are condoning his actions throughout his legal history, or do you think that he never has been on the wrong side of the law.
    I do not know about Davis’s record, but I can bet that he hasn’t got record that even comes close to what Skips does.

  11. Throw the book at Skip!!! He deserves it!!! He did what he did… No excuse for it, he needs to pay for his hateful crime!!! We are all human, what he did is not! Animal to stalk and prey on a victim that the victim believed the attacker to be a friend!! Shame be his!!

  12. I personally know skip I’ve trained with him as an mma fighter I’m of African American decent also and he has stood on my corner while I fight and created me on… Skip is not a racist I like how all they tally about is darryn as a 1 a star skip has countless state championships in wrestling a sport of determination and self discipline.. I know skip and if he wanted to hurry him he would’ve continued with the whipping Daryn had coming… Of course he’s gonna flee the scene he’s got a record and doesn’t want to be back in jail.. In skips defense this was an act of self defense.. Natives beat the hell out of everyone in or town I’m a witness to that.. The first tone one gets there butt kicked they take it to a whole other level…

  13. Of course these 3 other comments are written by Non-Indian people and are defending the actions of Skip, but that is their prerogative, truth of the matter is that if this kid, (Skip) did in fact throw a racial slur, then that action is racist. Are these defenders of Skip condoning racism? You talk about this kid being called a “white kid” that isn’t racist its factual, being called the n-word or a prairie n_ _ _ _ _ in fact is racist. Now it is a fact that native people have been called this time and again within the boundaries of Riverton and yet they expect this young man to remain idle when this kid calls him something that is insulting to his ethnicity? Come on you people are well aware that anyone who takes an offensive stab at anyone that they are going to defend themselves. You are right there are two sides to every story, Skip had his and Mr. Davis has his, so rather than defend the actions of one, sympathize for the victim cause that is what Mr. Davis was,,, a victim. Of course within the minds of some of the people of Riverton, Skip did no wrong. If you think there is no racism within Riverton, ask a native person who has ever gone to the Riverton Hospital looking for emergency health care, the lack of professionalism given to a native is horrid, our people would much rather take our health issues to Lander where we are treated humane. So if you guys are going to defend Skip, I feel it is my privilege and honor to defend Mr. Davis

  14. Skip is a great guy and I’m sorry if any one gets hit it’s an instinct to hit back they don’t mention the who threw the first punch just the last punch if skip was aiming to hurt the guy he would’ve kept on punchin not just one punch and leave and the whole race card being pulled is bullshit they were childhood friends it says so how’s he racist plus he has a mixed race family so he is far from racist. And they say he left the scene, the bartenders told him it happens all the time go ahead and go and he left after the cops were already there and never asked to stay. The kid who got hurt deserves it he is constantly in bombers tryin to stir up fights and causing trouble but they fail to mention that in there story, it’s pretty sad that u have to be punished for pure self defense

  15. Hello Wyofile, and Mr. feemster,

    I believe this artical is very racist and unacceptable. You have marked Skip Crooks as a “White kid” and a disgrace to society, while making Darryn Davis a High School football star. There was absolutely no reason to list Skips mistakes as a minor. (we all have them) but yet not list anything that Darryn has done in his younger years other than sports, and feed Skip a pop tart. Im sure he wasnt totally innocent. Why is it that you sir and WYOFILE have already convicted this young man on hear say? There are two sides to every story, and by the sounds of it you have only heard one. You call this not an “ordinary punch” or even an “ordinary bar fight”, what does that really mean? For fact it was outside a bar amongst two grown guys that had consumed alcohol in that bar. Sounds to me it was a bar fight. Oh wait now that there was so called “Racial slur’s” involved, this makes it not ordinary? Do you Mr. Feemster know factual that either one of these men in fact spoke racial slur’s, or are you once again only going by hear say from a one sided story? Another piece of you’re artical speaks about “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.” This is absolutely ridiculous coming from the mother of Darrell, and i say this because being a “WHITE MAN” if we would of gotten knocked out, we would of taken it like a man and went on with life, not instantly pulling the “race card”. I take offense to that, and find it racist. She is also calling our law enforcement a joke and racist. I worked side by side with Skip for a little over a year and found Skip as a good kid with a rough past. He was not an aggressive kid, and had never said a bad word towards anyone. I was very happy to work next to him everyday, and never heard a racial slur from skip. He would get upset when he heard someone else speak that way due to the fact some of his family is of mixed race. Lets review the definitin of racist
    1. the belief that races have distinctive cultural characteristics determined by hereditary factors and that this endows some races with an intrinsic superiority over others
    2. abusive or aggressive behaviour towards members of another race on the basis of such a belief
    now with that said how can a “bar fight” between a couple of grown men who has consumed who knows how much alcohol, be a racist confrontation? just because he was hurt, and of a different culture than skip, i guess its the right time to pull the card..

  16. This isn’t an article even remotely trying to approach the story from an unbiased perspective. I’ve heard both sides of this situation and neither match. You freely drag Skip’s record out into the open to paint him with a negative light. How about you list the number of time Mr. Davis has been involved in assaults like this. Flat out, Davis has a reputation for picking fights. Don’t see that mentioned in the article. Or the fact he Mr. Davis is well known as a instigator of fights. I am not at all surprise he was involved in an assault case. Well done though, making Davis out to be a 100% saint and the completely innocent victim in this.