CHARLOTTESVILLE — A fourth man was found guilty Friday of brutally attacking a 20-year-old African American man in a city parking garage during the deadly “Unite the Right” white nationalist rally in 2017.
Tyler Watkins Davis, 50, of Middleburg, Fla., once a member of a white nationalist group, the League of the South, entered an Alford plea in Charlottesville Circuit Court on a malicious wounding charge. The Alford plea acknowledged that prosecutors had enough evidence to convict him in the assault on DeAndre Harris, a former special education instructional assistant.
During Friday’s hearing, prosecutors told Judge Richard E. Moore that Davis was seen on video whacking Harris on the head with a wooden stick — a “tire thumper.” The injury gave Harris such a large laceration on his head that it required eight staples.
Davis, through his attorney, told The Washington Post after the hearing that he has renounced white nationalism.
In the 18 months since the August 2017 rally, Albemarle County and Charlottesville prosecutors have secured convictions and harsh sentences for seven of the rally’s most high-profile criminal defendants. Four of the seven include the men who pummeled and kicked Harris in the Market Street parking garage. Harris suffered a spinal injury in addition to the head wound.
Video of the garage attack — and of Harris’s bloodied head — sped across the Internet, ultimately helping online sleuths, led by journalist Shaun King, to identify the assailants. The three others are: Jacob S. Goodwin, 24, a white nationalist from Arkansas who received an eight-year sentence; Alex Michael Ramos, of Georgia, who got six years; and Daniel Borden, of Ohio, who is serving a nearly four-year sentence.
They argued they were acting in self-defense. Because they’d seen Harris himself smack a white nationalist in the head with a heavy flashlight moments earlier, the white nationalists then claimed he was trying to attack them. But video evidence showed that by the time Harris was fully in the garage, he was scrambling on the floor and the assailants — armed with a shield, a wooden board or a stick — were standing over him in a full-scale attack.
Local prosecutors have also won convictions against: James A. Fields, an avowed neo-Nazi, who was sentenced in December to life in prison for ramming his car into a group of protesters, killing 32-year-old paralegal Heather Heyer; Richard Preston, of Maryland, a self-identified Ku Klux Klan imperial wizard, who was given four years in prison for firing his gun in the direction of a counterprotester who’d shot fire from a makeshift flamethrower; and Christopher Cantwell, known as “the Crying Nazi,” who pleaded guilty in July to assault and battery for pepper-spraying two counterprotesters the night before the rally during a march near the University of Virginia rotunda. Cantwell, who appeared in a viral Vice documentary, was barred from Virginia for five years.
Among the four men arrested for beating Harris at the parking garage, Davis has had the most unusual legal path. Despite objections from Charlottesville prosecutors, he was the only one who was eventually allowed to go free on bail as he awaited trial, which had been scheduled for next week.
During Friday’s hearing, Davis was allowed to go free again and return to his Florida home, though he asked to be put on home electronic monitoring. He will be sentenced Aug. 27. One of his attorneys, Matthew Engle, told Moore that his client’s Alford plea does not mean he contests the fact he hit Harris in the head with the tire thumper, a club-like device truck drivers use to check tire pressure.
Engle said Davis believes the malicious wounding charge, which carries a sentencing range of five to 20 years, is too severe and doesn’t reflect his actions.
Like Goodwin, Borden and Ramos, Davis entered the fight believing Harris posed a threat, Engle said. But unlike the other three men, Davis withdrew from the altercation once he hit Harris, believing “his perceived danger had been neutralized,” Engle told the judge.
Among the four convicted garage assailants, Davis may get the lightest sentence. Engle said Davis’s sentencing guidelines range from 18 months to a little more than four years.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Davis was a charter member of a chapter within the Florida League of the South. The law center describes the League of the South as a “neo-confederate” organization that wants to establish “a white, Christian ethnostate in the southeastern U.S.” Shortly after his arrest, according to the law center, a high-ranking league official went on Gab, a social media platform popular among white supremacists, and declared: “This is our boy. He and his family will need our help.”
Davis declined to comment after the hearing, but he released a short statement through Engle declaring he is no longer a member of the League of the South and no longer supports the white nationalist movement.
Prosecutor Nina-Alice Antony said more men are wanted in the garage attack whom authorities have so far been unable to identify or find.
This story has been updated.