The magistrate's charge against Harris, who suffered a spinal injury and a head laceration that required 10 stitches, came less than 48 hours after a second rally by white supremacists and white nationalists in Charlottesville and caught the city's police department by surprise.
"We were not expecting this. We were expecting to do our own investigation into the man's allegations," said Detective Sgt. Jake Via, who is supervising the parking garage case.
But alleged crime victims can go to magistrates for warrants after they've filed police reports.
Harris's attorney, S. Lee Merritt, denounced the charge and said it was orchestrated by the League of the South, an organization labeled by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group. Crews, who runs the group's North Carolina chapter, was not injured "in any way" by Harris, Merritt said.
"We find it highly offensive and upsetting," Merritt said, "but what's more jarring is that he's been charged with the same crime as the men who attacked him."
The brutal attack, which occurred in a garage next to police department headquarters, was captured in a video that went viral in the days after the rally. The confrontation has come to symbolize the racial hatred that was unleashed in Charlottesville on Aug. 12, when white supremacists, Klan members and neo-Nazis clashed with counterprotesters. The violence left one counterprotester, Heather Heyer, dead.
Harris's beating has inspired a social-media campaign by activists to identify his attackers, two of whom were charged weeks ago. A third man, Jacob Scott Goodwin, a 22-year-old from Ward, Ark., was arrested by U.S. Marshals Tuesday night after being identified by online sleuths, who are led by journalist and Black Lives Matter activist Shaun King.
King, who has spent hundreds of hours poring over photos and video footage of the rally and the parking garage attack, said he was appalled that Harris has been charged.
"I am disgusted that the justice system bent over backwards to issue a warrant for one of the primary victims of that day, when I and others had to fight like hell to get that same justice system to prosecute people who were vicious in their attacks against Harris and others," King said. "Now, we're seeing white supremacists celebrate on social media, bragging about Harris's arrest. They're hailing this as a victory."
Indeed, after the charge was announced, Hunter Wallace, a prominent white nationalist, issued a celebratory tweet — along with a photo of the main character from the film "American Psycho" grinning widely.
Avnel Coates, the chief magistrate for the district that includes Charlottesville, declined to say whether she issued the arrest warrant. She referred The Washington Post to Kristi Wright, the director of the state's Department of Legislative and Public Relations, who said Coates cannot comment on pending or concluded legal matters in her office.
Any alleged crime victim can approach a magistrate to obtain a warrant against the alleged perpetrator. The alleged victim must file a police report, and then the magistrate needs probable cause to issue an arrest warrant, based on that person's testimony.
Via said Harris's alleged victim did file a complaint with police, who told him they'd investigate the allegations. Crews apparently also went to the magistrate's office, which needed only evidence of a police report to issue a warrant.
"The arrest warrant was based solely on the victim's testimony," Via said.
Once the warrant is served on Harris — probably this week — the decision of whether to prosecute the case falls to Commonwealth's Attorney Warner D. "Dave" Chapman. The prosecutor told The Post on Tuesday evening that it wouldn't be appropriate to comment on a pending investigation.
Meanwhile, King and the other online sleuths had been waiting for the police department to act on their evidence against Goodwin, whom they initially nicknamed "Shield" because of what he was carrying that day.
They watched footage of the parking garage attack multiple times from different angles. They noticed that "Shield" had stuffed his large ponytail into the back of his military helmet. They measured his military goggles and examined his plastic, body-length shield. They zoomed in and saw that he wore a twisted, copper-colored bracelet. They also discovered that he wore a Traditionalist Worker Party pin.
"Dear Jacob Scott Goodwin, age 22, of Ward, Arkansas," King posted on his own Facebook page Sept. 24. "We have looked for you for a month. In the end it was your hair, your bracelets, your glasses, your tattoo on your forearm, the white supremacist pins and necklaces, and your own bragging online that helped us identify you as one of the felony attackers of DeAndre Harris in Charlottesville. Soon, you will be arrested."
King and his online investigators also gathered information that led to the arrests of two other alleged attackers: Daniel P. Borden, 18, of Ohio, and Alex Michael Ramos, 33, of Georgia. Both have been charged with malicious wounding.
They also identified a suspected attacker from a separate incident during the Charlottesville rally — a man accused of punching a counterprotester on the street. Dennis Mothersbaugh, 37, who lives in North Vernon, Ind., was arrested by police Sept. 28 and charged with assault and battery, and awaits extradition to Virginia.
"It's me, and maybe 15 people, all Internet volunteers, we're all doing this together," said King, a columnist with the Intercept. "We have Facebook messages, Twitter and email conversations, and whenever we find something, we share it. We're doing it knowing we can't afford to make a mistake."
In video of the parking garage fight, the man identified as Crews tries to spear a counterprotester with the pole of a Confederate flag. Harris retaliates, swinging a flashlight at Crews, appearing to strike him. But Harris's attorney, Merritt, said that the flashlight failed "to make significant contact" and that Crews was injured in a separate incident that did not involve Harris.
Within seconds of Harris swinging the flashlight, he was kicked to the ground by a group of at least five white supremacists, who began hitting him with wooden sticks and a large board. In the video, the man police have identified as Goodwin, clad in military tactical gear, kicks Harris. At one point, he appears to strike Harris with his shield. As the fight is ending, a counterprotester sucker-punches Goodwin's helmeted head.
Goodwin did not return a message seeking comment.
In an interview, his mother, Tamera Goodwin, who also attended the Charlottesville rally, confirmed that it is her son in the video wearing military tactical gear and carrying a shield. She asked him about his involvement in the attack that day, she said.
"I told him, 'It does look like you kicked him,' but he said, 'No, Mom, I didn't,' " she said.
"He said, 'We just tried to get out, but there was no way out other than to fight back.' "
King and his team noticed that he was wearing a red pin with the number 88 — code for "Heil Hitler," because H is the eighth letter of the alphabet. Then, they focused on the pin for the Traditionalist Worker Party, a white nationalist group run by Matthew Heimbach.
Maybe, they thought, "Shield" had attended the Traditionalist Worker Party rally in Pikeville, Ky., in the spring. They began sifting through the party's public Facebook pages for photos from the gathering.
"We'd click on each person who liked a photo from the Pikeville rally, and every person who commented on a photo. And that's how we got to Jacob's page," King said. "We clicked on his profile, and there he was, with the exact same bracelets and necklaces. He even explained where he got his helmet."
Not only did they finally have a name, they took screenshots of Goodwin's Facebook page: Smiling with his mom. Posing in a camouflage uniform, clutching a long firearm.
Then King did what he always does. He passed the evidence on to police.