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. Davis underwent reconstructive facial surgery after being punched by his childhood friend, James “Skip” Crooks. In this post, reporter Ron Feemster responds to the mixed reader response to the story. (Ron Feemster/WyoFile — click to view)
By Ron Feemster
March 23, 2013

Readers blasted WyoFile and me for our post this week about a violent encounter in Riverton between two boyhood friends, Darryn Davis and James “Skip” Crooks.

After Crooks punched Davis outside Bomber’s Bar on Main Street, Davis was flown to Casper for reconstructive facial surgery. Crooks was arrested and charged with felony aggravated assault. However, the Riverton police did not arrest Crooks until a week had passed. The incident, and especially the delay in the arrest, outraged the local Native community, especially the Northern Arapaho tribe. Davis, the son of an African American father and a Northern Arapaho mother, is an enrolled member of the tribe.

Readers took us to task for two reasons that I take seriously. I paid too little attention to Davis’ criminal record, which I will discuss below, and I did not give Crooks credit for his sports accomplishments.

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

Like Davis, Crooks won three state high school championships. He took the 215-pound state wrestling title three times for Green River High School. More than a local sensation, Crooks was a nationally ranked grappler in his weight class. Crooks also played football at Green River.

“He was a good kid for us,” said Darren Heslep, the wrestling coach at Green River High School. “He had problems, like some kids do. But he did well for us.”

After graduation, Crooks attended Western Wyoming Community College in Rock Springs on a wrestling scholarship and qualified for the national NJCAA tournament at 197 pounds. He violated team rules and did not make the trip to the national tournament, according to Art Castillo, the Western wrestling coach. Castillo was an assistant under Blake Gunter when Crooks competed for the team. Gunter did not return repeated calls to discuss Crooks’ career at Western. Crooks did not return for his second year at Western.

I thank the commenter who named himself “the milkdud” for calling my attention to Crooks’ high school wrestling career. This commenter says he is an African American who trains in mixed-martial-arts fighting with Crooks. I wrote to him several days ago, thanking him for his comments and inviting him to call me and discuss Crooks at greater length. I have not heard from him.

Grateful as I am, I must also point out that some remarks from “the milkdud” and others come off as laughable in their misguided machismo. I’m not going to address the notion that Davis, who was knocked senseless and treated for brain swelling, should have “taken it like a man.”

Nor will I accept as evidence of Crooks’ moderation that he threw “only” one punch. One commenter suggests that if Crooks had meant to hurt Davis, he would have “continued with the whipping Darryn had coming.” Seriously? He would have beaten a bleeding, unconscious man on the ground? This is not the sort of “support” that will help a man accused of aggravated assault.

In addition to the one-sided references to Crooks’ criminal record and Davis’ sports career, readers accused WyoFile of making a “bar fight” into a racial incident. Never mind that a witness quoted by police in court documents alleges that Crooks uttered a racial slur before he threw his punch. Or that police say this slur was among the things Davis recalled when he regained consciousness in the hospital. In addition, it was the reservation leaders (not WyoFile) who called the FBI, the Department of Justice and the NAACP when they perceived an unjustified delay in arresting Crooks. Race was a part of this story from the instant a punch was thrown. Not covering race would have been unbalanced.

Finally, we emphasized in the post that the stories told by the two sides diverge throughout. I wrote that Davis sees an unprovoked attack outside a bar and that Crooks’ lawyer calls it self-defense. We noted that the Native community found it unfair to not to arrest Crooks until week after the incident, but that the defense felt it was poor police work to arrest him so soon. There were two sides to the story. Both of them are in our report. That, dear readers, is what balanced coverage looks like.

As some readers pointed out, Darryn Davis has been in trouble with the law in the past. A check under his name in Fremont County District Court showed no felony charges and no civil claims valued above $5,000.

In Riverton Circuit Court, Davis has pleaded guilty as a juvenile to one count of driving under the influence of alcohol and one count of driving without a valid driver license, according to court records. As an adult, he pleaded guilty to minor-in-possession of alcohol at age 20 and to one count of misdemeanor larceny for shoplifting items worth $7.99 from a Maverik store in Riverton. He has paid fines and been on probation. He has done a few days in jail awaiting court appearances, and received suspended jail sentences. He has never been sent to jail by a judge. I have yet to check the tribal court records. If he has a record there, we will report it.

In our story, I wrote that Crooks “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.”

That word “somehow” should convey that I felt such punishment made little sense, given what I knew at the time. Even so, my conversations with the clerk of court in Green River and with the Department of Corrections left no doubt about the facts. So this week I traveled to Green River to take a firsthand look at the court documents. I learned that there is more to that story, which we will address in a future post in this blog.

Are we solely interested in establishing motive for the purpose of obtaining a conviction or proving mitigating circumstances like self-defense? Or should we ask ‘why?’ in order to discriminate between different types of offenses?

But before I get to that post, let’s clear up something else that upset our readers. Some objected to my decision to write about crimes Crooks committed as a juvenile. We need to be clear that Crooks’ own actions led to his juvenile record becoming a public adult record. Had he successfully completed probation, his juvenile court records would have been sealed. Choices that Crooks made, not editorial choices that WyoFile made, led to his conviction on adult felony counts stemming from those juvenile offenses. Had he behaved otherwise, he could have gone on with his life and never would have been incarcerated.

Finally, remembering that Wyoming has no hate crime statute, I would like to pose a question for our readers. How, if at all, are these two crimes different? In one case, I punch you in the face because you insult my girlfriend. In the second case, I punch you in the face because your skin color is different from mine.

I’m not taking a stand here on why James Crooks hit Darryn Davis. But I am trying to redirect the conversation to a question that I see beneath the surface of many comments in the last post. Why do we ask why one person injures another?

Are we solely interested in establishing motive for the purpose of obtaining a conviction or proving mitigating circumstances like self-defense? Or should we ask ‘why?’ in order to discriminate between different types of offenses? If I hit you because I hate all people who look like you, have I committed a different crime than when I smash you in the face because of what I think you — you personally — did to injure me?

We welcome all comments at WyoFile, provided they meet a minimum standard of civility. But I would especially welcome your reflections on how, if at all, you believe motives change the nature of crimes.

— 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. Wyofile…I adore you! Thank you for this piece and all the others.

    I have read the other post and all the comments that followed and after reading the comments specifically, all I could think was “are you serious?!”…
    The main message I got from the comment reaction to the post was that being a decorated high school athlete in Wyoming means you can do no wrong and you should “take it like a man” when faced with tough situations. I won 18 individual state titles while in high school and received a full ride scholarship to a D1 school, and I was never under the impression that my athletic ability meant I could go around dropping racial slurs and punching people to the point of brain damage. Being an athlete meant I went to practice, it didn’t give me a “get out of jail free” card.

    And “take it like a man”?…brilliant message to tell our younger generation of males…”don’t be compassionate or responsible. Just take it like a man and don’t be a pansy…”
    Want to know how to encourage violence and hate in a society? Tell them to take it like a man and have another drink. Oh, and don’t forget to be good at a high school sport.

  2. Thank you WyoFile and all its’ staff for your continued BALANCED COVERAGE. Do not let the misguided comments of the ignorant masses used to spoon-fed propaganda and incapable of independent thought and reasoning dissuade you from producing real objective news stories. Nor should you feel the need to defend your balanced coverage. Keep up the good work!!

  3. Maybe, just maybe, one should count ton ten (or in this case, 10,000) before looking for something to write about. If your purpose in publishing these articles was to inflame the situation, then you accomplished your purpose. If, however, you are endeavoring to report complete stories, for heavens sake get the full story first (which, in this case, will probably not be revealed until the trial occurs). You’re better than that……….