Malicious wounding charge against ‘Boonie Hat’ goes to grand jury

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Tyler Watkins Davis, the man known as "Boonie Hat," goes to the grand jury for malicious wounding in the beatdown of DeAndre Harris August 12.
Charlottesville police Tyler Watkins Davis, the man known as “Boonie Hat,” goes to the grand jury for malicious wounding in the beatdown of DeAndre Harris August 12. Charlottesville police

A Florida man charged with malicious wounding in the August 12 Market Street Parking Garage attack on DeAndre Harris can thank the attorney of another man for his arrest—and for dubbing him “Boonie Hat.

Tyler Watkins Davis, 50, of Middleburg, Florida, was in Charlottesville General District Court April 12 for a preliminary hearing, and his attorney argued Davis had been “overcharged” and that the single blow he struck against Harris did not rise to the level of malicious wounding. However, Judge Bob Downer found enough evidence to certify the felony charge to the grand jury.

The moniker “Boonie Hat” debuted in that same court December 14, when Blairs attorney Elmer Woodard, who represents Jacob Goodwin, who’s also charged in the garage brawl, played video of the assault and asked why police had not arrested the then-unknown man wearing a brimmed hat who could be seen striking Harris.

Charlottesville police Detective Declan Hickey testified that he hadn’t noticed Boonie Hat until Woodard pointed him out in December, and he started looking for him. Davis was arrested January 24.

Davis, a member of the neo-Confederate group League of the South, came to Charlottesville to the Unite the Right rally to exercise his political opinions, said his attorney, Matthew Engle. “Opinions I find offensive,” added the attorney. “He had a right to do that.”

Engle portrayed Harris and Corey Long, known from video footage with his homemade flame thrower that he deployed at Emancipation Park, as much more violent and provocative than his client. He said that while Davis was peacefully protesting, Harris burned a Confederate flag earlier that day.

Engle played a video in which he said “two incredibly stupid things happened”: Long attempted to grab a flag belonging to Harold Crews, the head of the North Carolina League of the South, and Harris inserted himself into that. According to Engle, Harris pretty much provoked the vicious attack that left him with a broken wrist and stapled-together scalp. Harris was found not guilty of assaulting Crews March 16.

The attorney also said that “it was irresponsible” to send Unite the Right protesters out of the park and into the street with counterprotesters. Davis walked up Market Street as the two groups sparred. Once in the parking garage, when Harris stumbled in front of him and Davis hit him with what was variously described as a stick or club, “it was not self-defense” but it did lack malice, said Engle, who pointed that Davis only hit Harris once, unlike others involved in the attack.

“He was responding to a threat that he perceived,” said Engle.

Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Nina Antony disagreed. “Mr. Davis struck an individual who was unarmed and on the ground,” she said. “That in and of itself is malice.”

Before his ruling, Downer noted, “This court has viewed so many videos from so many angles,” and some shown April 12 had not been shown in other preliminary hearings. There was “horrible behavior” on the part of many people, he observed.

He said he didn’t think Davis was justified in striking Harris. “I think it was malicious,” and he said he found probable cause to certify the charge to the grand jury.

Downer allowed a bond hearing for Davis. Attorney Bernadette Donovan said her client was 50 years old with “absolutely no record.” Davis was raised in Lynchburg, where he met the woman to whom he’s been married 25 years, she said. Davis was a service technician for Comcast, had passed a background check for his job that had him going into people’s homes, and he was the family’s main breadwinner.

Holly Davis testified that her husband was funny and honest.

Over the prosecution’s objection, Downer agreed to a $5,000 bond on the condition that the commonwealth’s attorney could vet a home electronic monitoring system first. If approved, Davis could only leave his house for work, medical appointments for himself or his son, court or to meet with his attorneys.

“We requested he sign a waiver of extradition,” says Commonwealth’s Attorney Joe Platania.

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