Three of the four people charged with misdemeanor assault for their involvement in a pre-Christmas altercation on the Downtown Mall were found guilty on Friday, March 21, in Charlottesville General District Court.
After hearing testimony from nearly a dozen witnesses including four Charlottesville police officers and three independent eyewitnesses, Judge Robert Downer handed down verdicts against Malcolm Stevenson, Richard Spears, and Jeanne Doucette, but dismissed the charge against Marc Adams after no evidence emerged that he struck anyone.
Doucette and Adams, both 39, had initially reported what they said was a random and unprovoked attack that occurred as the two walked from Miller’s restaurant to Rapture after 1am on December 20. Doucette provided police with cell phone pictures that she said depicted their assailants, three black men, on the night of the assault. Nine days later, after Charlottesville Police told her the investigation had been suspended due to a lack of information, she posted her pictures on Facebook and released them to media along with her account of the incident.
On January 8, Stevenson and Spears surrendered to police and, soon after, offered a conflicting version, both in media interviews and in their sworn complaints, filed January 17, in which they described Doucette and Adams as aggressors who’d used racist and homophobic insults that had prompted a brawl. Based on those complaints, Doucette and Adams were both arrested and also charged with assault, setting up Friday’s courtroom scenario in which all four participants were treated as both victims and defendants, and witnesses faced questioning from the prosecutor and four separate defense attorneys.
Anyone hoping trial testimony would bring clarity to the conflicting versions was likely disappointed, however, as eyewitnesses to the event could only offer partial accounts, and a unified story about the motive for the altercation never surfaced.
During inquiries about the motive for the assault, Stevenson rejected the theory that racist or homophobic slurs being used against them caused them to react violently.
“I don’t remember any specific types of insults,” Malcolm Stevenson testified under questioning by Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Nina-Alice Antony during the nearly seven-hour trial, later stating that Adams called him a nigger but that he didn’t believe it was meant as a racist comment. Pressed by Antony, Stevenson testified that he didn’t tell police about racist or homophobic insults and didn’t remember making such claims in media interviews. An interview with Spears and Stevenson was published on local blog CharlottesvilleDTM.com on January 12 and another interview with the pair aired on NBC 29 on January 14.
“The male victim who I am claimed to have picked up and thrown and punched repeatedly, he approached me aggressively in a way saying that because of your sexuality and the way that you look that if this comes to blows I will win,” Stevenson told NBC29.
Both men have declined C-VILLE’s repeated requests for interviews.
Spears exercised his Fifth Amendment right and did not testify during the trial. His attorney, Ned Michie, explained to the court that his client had little memory of the event due to excessive alcohol consumption that night. Police testimony later revealed that Spears told an officer that he’d consumed 10 shots of vodka, three margaritas, two mixed drinks, and a shot of Bacardi 151 on the night in question.
Stevenson testified that the incident did begin as a verbal altercation after Spears mocked Adams, who had “slid down the wall” of the Wells Fargo bank and ended up on the ground. He testified that Doucette reacted to the mocking by pushing Spears before any blows had been exchanged. He saw Spears “flailing” his arms at Doucette and attempted to separate the two. Stevenson said the exchange heated up after he called Adams a “pussy.” Doucette then called Stevenson a pussy, Stevenson testified, and that insult enraged Spears, who Stevenson described as “sensitive” about his sexuality. Both men are openly gay.
“When I was called a pussy, the tone of the altercation changed,” Stevenson testified, insisting that his role in the mélée up to that point had been restricted to trying to break it up until Adams began moving towards him. He placed his hands on Adams’ chest to prevent him from advancing, and when he took his hands away, he said, Adams fell to the ground.
Stevenson said photos that show him standing over Adams do not depict him kicking, as Doucette has described and as she again testified in court, but rather show him issuing a verbal warning to Adams to stop attacking. He claimed that a third man, who Stevenson said was not known to him or anyone in his group, delivered the punch to Adams face that knocked out his tooth.
A witness sitting in front of the Landmark Hotel site watched a part of the encounter, and said he heard Adams asking the group to “leave them alone.” He said he saw a man he believed to be Stevenson pick up Adams and throw him to the ground.
William Tyler, security manager at The Box, was standing outside the Second Street establishment when he recognized Adams and Doucette, both of whom he has known for a decade through his work at various nightclubs. The couple appeared to be in a heated discussion with each other in front of the Wells Fargo bank near Central Place, when they encountered another group that appeared to be walking west down the Mall. Tyler said he saw Adams start pointing his finger at one of the men in the group, who then struck Adams three times. Adams dropped to the ground after the third punch.
“I chuckled and said, ‘Down goes Frazier,’ testified Tyler, referring to sports announcer Howard Cosell’s famous boxing line.
Tyler said he saw the same man standing over Adams and attempting to strike him while he was on the ground. He said he saw Doucette push the man, at which point he ran to the scene where he found Doucette bleeding from the ear and holding an apparently unconscious Adams, whose face was bloody. The man who struck Adams and his group ran towards a car parked on Second Street next to the library, Tyler testified. Tyler returned to work after someone else had called 911.
Two Charlottesville police officers responded to two 911 calls from unidentified callers, and caught up with Adams and Doucette near the Second Street NW crossing on the Mall around 1:45am. Doucette had blood visible on her ear and neck and was “very upset,” but did not appear intoxicated to the officers. Adams refused to give a statement or to receive medical treatment, and while both officers noticed an odor of alcohol about him, they could not determine whether he was unsteady on his feet because of injuries suffered in the assault or intoxication.
“He was bleeding, very upset, sobbing,” testified Officer Larry Jones of Adams’ demeanor. “He would only state that he wanted to go home.”
Adams went to the hospital the next morning and to the dentist for an emergency root canal on the missing tooth. Questioned by Spears’ and Stevenson’s attorneys about the extent of his injuries, described by the couple in a previous C-VILLE article and on Facebook as including cracked ribs and a fractured ankle, Adams acknowledged that X-rays did not confirm those injuries. Doucette testified she believed the description of the injuries was accurate because doctors told them hairline fractures often can’t be seen on X-ray and had sent Adams home with instructions on how to care for those specific injuries.
Stevenson’s and Spears’ attorneys also questioned the quantity of alcohol Adams and Doucette consumed on the night in question. Adams claimed he’d had nothing to drink before he worked a shift at a downtown food cart from 9pm to midnight, and after midnight, he said he didn’t recall. “More than one, less than 20?” Michie asked, to which Adams replied, “Yes.” He said he was not under the influence of any other substance.
Doucette also claimed she didn’t know exactly how much she’d had to drink, and bristled at Michie’s continued questioning on the subject.
“I didn’t think this was about me having three pints of beer,” she said. “I thought it was about three men punching me in the head.”
At the conclusion of testimony, which also included input from Spears’ neighbor Ameer Pretty, who was part of Stevenson and Spears’ group that night and who said the incident hadn’t seemed particularly serious to him, Judge Downer—who had already dismissed the charge against Adams— summarized the basis for his decision to convict the other three.
“I don’t believe for a minute that Mr. Spears runs up and starts attacking out of the blue,” he said. “I think [Doucette] pushed Mr. Spears, and he completely overreacted.” He described Doucette’s push as “provoked but not justified,” and fined her $100. He sentenced Spears to 180 days with all but 40 suspended, and Stevenson to 60 days with 50 suspended. Both men received two years probation.
Downer noted that the unidentified third man made it impossible to determine who inflicted Adams’ serious injuries, decried the excessive alcohol consumption made evident through the testimony, and also expressed frustration that more witnesses did not come forward.
“Be the eyes and the ears that will help this court get it right,” he said. “If you see something, you need to say something.”
Following the verdict, Lepold announced Stevenson’s intention to appeal.
Standing outside court following the trial, Spears’ mother Georgina Spears criticized the way her son has been portrayed in the media and treated in court, and said she believed the $100 fine against Doucette amounted to “a slap on the wrist” compared to her son’s heavier sentence, something she attributed to his race.
“You see it happening a lot more to black people than to white people,” she said.
Following the hearing, all four defendants declined comment. In a written statement sent the day after the trial, Adams noted his relief that the claims of racism and homophobia against him and Doucette seemed to have been recanted.
“I hope this community can heal after this unfortunate event,” he said.