On the night when a gun was pulled, punches were thrown and car windows smashed, transforming Dallas into the latest flash point of criminal justice and race relations, everything began with a traffic dispute.
L’Daijohnique Lee was going the wrong way down a one-way street in the Deep Ellum neighborhood on March 21. She was dropping off a friend, she said. Austin Shuffield, 30, was trying to leave a parking lot. He tried to take a picture of her license plate. Lee, 24, threatened to mace him if he didn’t back away, WFAA reported, citing a police affidavit.
A bystander video captured what happened next. Shuffield, who is white, clutches a pistol at his side and steps toward Lee, who is black. She pulls out her phone to dial 911. Shuffield swats the phone to the ground, and Lee connects a punch. Then Shuffield winds up for at least five hard blows to Lee’s head, sending her reeling. Then he kicks her phone down the street.
The video roared across social media and throughout Dallas, where protesters and community activists suggested Lee’s race played a role in lesser misdemeanors for Shuffield because he is white, and urged more serious charges against Shuffield. But a felony charge landed first for Lee — the assault victim.
Lee was charged Tuesday with felony criminal mischief after allegedly smashing the windows of Shuffield’s truck after the incident. That decision triggered more protests in Dallas, including one planned at city hall Wednesday, the Dallas Morning News reported, as the video and Lee’s story spread.
On Wednesday, the Dallas County district attorney’s office said Lee’s warrant was recalled. “The case has been declined for prosecution,” said Kimberlee Leach, a spokeswoman for the office. It was not immediately clear why.
The initial felony charge for Lee raised questions about whether it was appropriate for an assault victim.
“She’s obviously in distress. You can’t consider these things outside of context,” said her attorney S. Lee Merritt, who criticized authorities for filing a felony charge against Lee before they focused on Shuffield.
Shuffield has been referred for a felony assault charge to the Dallas County district attorney’s office to consider for a grand jury, police said. He has not been formally charged with any felonies.
“We understand that some people are upset,” Dallas Deputy Police Chief Thomas Castro said in a news conference Tuesday, when he announced the now-dropped charges.
“It’s not the intention of the Dallas Police Department to pick one side or the other. We simply had information that was provided to us on a criminal offense.”
Police first charged Shuffield with public intoxication, interfering with an emergency call and assault — all misdemeanors.
But following a public outcry, an additional charge of unlawful carrying of a weapon was added on March 28. That is also a misdemeanor, Dallas police spokeswoman Sgt. Nicole Watson said. The recommendation for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon was made on the same day.
An attorney for Shuffield, J.R. Cook, declined to comment. Shuffield told detectives days later he feared for his life after Lee allegedly threatened to have friends shoot him, WFAA reported.
Lee also spoke about her fears from the encounter.
“All I could do was try to protect myself. He literally sat there and beat me like a man,” Lee told WFAA soon after the incident.
At the news conference Tuesday, Castro was asked by a reporter if it was typical for crime victims to later be charged for what came after the crime.
He appeared to wince. “Each case is unique. Each case has its own set of circumstances,” he said.
This story has been updated.