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. (Ron Feemster/WyoFile — click to view)

James “Skip” Crooks will face felony aggravated assault charges in Fremont County District Court for punching Darryn Davis in the face outside Bomber’s Bar in the early morning hours of March 9, Judge Wesley Roberts ruled Wednesday after a preliminary hearing in Fremont County Circuit Court on Wednesday.

Roberts ruled that Crooks would face the more serious felony charges because witnesses — primarily the police — presented adequate evidence to try Crooks as the man who intentionally threw the punch that caused serious bodily injury to Davis. Davis was flown to Casper shortly after the attack for treatment of brain swelling and reconstructive surgery on his face.

Crooks' supporters in court. Crooks in red shirt flanked by his girlfriend, Tori Watts, and his lawyer, Scott Stinson.
Crooks’ supporters in court. Crooks in red shirt flanked by his girlfriend, Tori Watts, and his lawyer, Scott Stinson. (Ron Feemster/WyoFile — click to view)
Crooks’ supporters in court. Crooks in red shirt flanked by his girlfriend, Tori Watts, and his lawyer, Scott Stinson. (Ron Feemster/WyoFile — click to view)

If the ruling was straightforward in the end, the testimony ranged beyond those topics and foreshadowed elements of the cases that the prosecution and defense could mount at trial.

A piece of evidence that had not surfaced in the publicly available police report suggested that Davis and Crooks may have been shouting at each other before the incident, and that Davis’ sister Muriel “Kelly” Davis at one point stood between the two men keeping them apart.

Police quoted another witness who has said that Crooks’ punch lifted Davis off his feet and propelled him backwards in the air before he landed on the back of his head.

The case has provoked strong reactions from some members of the Native community, who are outraged by Crooks’ use of a racial slur against Davis. Davis has an African American father and a Northern Arapaho mother. Crooks’ defenders, on the other hand, who see this as a bar fight and not a racial incident, were heartened by hints that the evidence may bolster a self-defense case at trial.

Crooks’ attorney, Scott Stinson, said during a break before the ruling that he felt a misdemeanor assault charge was a “better theory of the case” than the felony charge, but that he expected to see his client cleared of all charges. “Self defense is a trial strategy, not a preliminary hearing defense,” he said.

Attorneys on both sides addressed the issue of whether Crooks threw the punch “recklessly under circumstances manifesting an extreme indifference to the value of human life,” which appeared to be argued as a necessary criterion for an aggravated assault charge in Wyoming.

The prosecution brought up the point that Crooks appears to have trained and fought as a mixed martial arts fighter. County attorney Pat LeBrun argued that if Crooks hit Davis knowing that he could “pack such a punch” this was evidence of “extreme indifference.”

As it turned out, however, little evidence existed for this theory besides a photo on Crooks’ Facebook page showing him in shorts and MMA-style boxing gloves. The photo did not appear to be on Crooks’ Facebook page any longer after court.

But as the judge pointed out before he ruled, such reckless indifference is an alternate theory, not an essential ingredient of the charge of aggravated assault, provided that the prosecution can make a case that the defendant knowingly or intentionally caused serious bodily injury to the victim.

Roberts told LeBrun, in answer to the deputy county attorney’s question, that the state did not present sufficient evidence to send the case to district court on the basis of reckless action taken with extreme indifference to the value of human life.

James "Skip" Crooks and Omar Miller outside the courtroom.
James “Skip” Crooks and Omar Miller outside the courtroom. (Ron Feemster/WyoFile — click to view)
James “Skip” Crooks and Omar Miller outside the courtroom. (Ron Feemster/WyoFile — click to view)

Crooks appeared in court with a group of friends, including his girlfriend, Tori Watts. Watts and Crooks, who have a child together, report on their Facebook pages that they are engaged.

One of the men who showed up for Crooks was Omar Miller, 31, an African American originally from Baltimore. Miller lives in Riverton and says he has been friends with Crooks for nearly a year. Scott Stinson, Crooks’ attorney, invited WyoFile to photograph Miller and Crooks.

Miller said he is also friends with Darryn Davis and ran into him at Bomber’s on the night of the incident. Miller, who says he has played basketball with Davis at the parks in Riverton, did not see the punch or anything that led up to it.

“I left earlier in the night,” Miller said.

Davis was in court with his mother, two sisters and an aunt. One sister, Muriel “Kelly” Davis, briefly testified at the hearing. No trial date had been set by press time.

— 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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  1. Yep this photo looks as staged as can be, I feel regardless of racism or not assault is assault and those responsible should be held accountable. Nothing more, nothing less. Skip is not an upstanding citizen a felon with a history.

  2. The photo of Skip with the Afro-American looks about as staged as could be, although there is skepticism about this young mans view on minorities and with alcohol being a factor, and yes alcohol does change a person, but my experience with this type of behavior and being under the influence does bring out the true feelings of a persons character, so with that being said, and with alcohol as a factor and with the racial slurs, one would surmise that a true feelings were displayed with alcohol as the instigator of those racial comments towards Davis, just a view from a by-stander.

  3. I hope skip gets the maximum sentence I’ve never liked that arrogant prick. I don’t know Mr Davis but let’s review the facts here who’s the felon and who isn’t? Regardless of whether he is friend with minorities or not he needs to be accountable for his actions.

  4. So riddle me this, if this is in fact a hate crime doesn’t that require you to be a racist? Correct me if i’m wrong but it clearly shows Skip is friends with a African American man. Skip is also friend with another person of African decent Jarett David, also a Mexican/Hawaiian Orlando Rodriguez, clearly the man is racist! haha Really WyoFile? Before you make ridiculous accusations i suggest that you get your facts straight. You may have the Constitution backing you up but besides that you don’t have much. I strongly suggest you re-asses the things you have said about Skip, you honestly owe him apology. I respected Skip all through out high school with the way he carried him self in wrestling. When he showed back up we butted heads I didn’t like him much at all, I honestly had a hate for the guy. Then I see this, I can’t allow myself to think this is right; there is no way it is. The man was drunk they both were don’t try and bull shit me and tell me you haven’t experienced the affects alcohol has on human. It turns you into a different person. Besides that who’s word do you have to go on? Davis’ family and friends? That is in no way whatsoever a solid bases, you need to get stories from others that were there that night because I may of not been there but I am sure you would get a little bit less of a one sided argument. WyoFile is honestly bantering a white man over nothing. I say white pride I’m automatically a racist correct? Again correct me if I am wrong but if a Native American says brow pride they are not. Now where is the sense in that? I would love to hear someone else’s thoughts on that.