November 28, 2006
No charges will be filed in a scuffle between Senator George Allen's campaign aides and a political blogger.
"As bad as it looks, when you slow it down, when you get the input of all the people involved, you can gain an understanding that none of these people intended to hurt each other," said Charlottesville Commonwealth Attorney Dave Chapman.
That determination lead Chapman to announce that he will not be filing charges against anyone involved in the melee back on October 31. The scuffle began when blogger and UVa student Mike Stark approached Senator George Allen at a campaign stop at the Omni Hotel. He was then tackled to the ground by Allen supporters and staff. Chapman says the video evidence along with eyewitness testimony led him to this finding.
"Is it an assault in a way in which we usually expect to see it in terms of fists, blows being struck, objects being used? No it is not like that kind of event," Chapman said.
Even though the incident got national attention, Chapman says it was just like any other case.
"The reality is you find out what is available in the way of evidence and you just follow the facts," he said.
We talked to Mike Stark by telephone and he says that he is disappointed that the Commonwealth Attorney decided against pursuing the case. He says he is going to consult with his attorney about other options.
Below is the statement from Charlottesville's Commonwealth's Attorney Dave Chapman:
"The Charlottesville Police Department has completed its investigation of the incident of 10/31/06 at the Omni Hotel in Charlottesville involving W.M. Stark and campaign staff and supporters of Sen. George Allen. The results of the investigation have been presented to the Commonwealth’s Attorney for consideration.
With the assistance of video recordings obtained from Charlottesville television stations CBS-19 and NBC-29, police personnel and the Commonwealth’s Attorney have been able to review virtually the entire incident. The recordings facilitated the process of identifying all the participants in the events and nearly all of the material witnesses. In addition to the video recordings the number and variety of participants and witnesses who cooperated with the investigation provide a basis upon which one may have confidence that the available evidence constitutes a full and fair record of the events under consideration.
Upon review of the evidence the Commonwealth’s Attorney does not recommend that charges be brought against any participant in this incident. While several individuals could be charged with one or more misdemeanor offenses such as assault and battery or disorderly conduct it is apparent from the evidence that no participant sought to strike or injure another person.
On the one hand, Mr. Stark actively and aggressively sought to approach Sen. Allen for the purpose of shouting questions at him in the full view of the assembled media. In doing so he made physical contact with members of Sen. Allen’s staff and supporters under circumstances in which a reasonable person would be concerned for the Senator’s safety and unsure of Mr. Stark’s precise intentions. A defensive reaction from one or more of these individuals was reasonably to be expected under the circumstances. On the other hand, after the onset of physical contact between Mr. Stark and members of Sen. Allen’s group it appears from the evidence that at least one of them, John Darden, began to react with anger toward Mr. Stark because of what he was saying, in contrast with the legitimate concern for the Senator that may have influenced his initial reactions to Mr. Stark’s approach and demeanor. Although Mr. Darden ends up on the ground with Mr. Stark he quickly releases his grasp as another individual assists Mr. Stark to his feet and ushers him out of the building. In the Commonwealth’s view, this behavior is inconsistent with a conclusion that Mr. Darden intended to harm Mr. Stark.
As much as emotions may have come to influence the behavior and judgment of several individuals who were involved in this incident, the balance of evidence reflects that no one sought to hurt anyone. Under these circumstances, rather than urge that cross warrants be sought between the parties to the physical altercation that took place, the Commonwealth’s recommendation is that no charges be sought by law enforcement.
Warner D. Chapman,