HARRISONBURG — A Rockingham County judge on Tuesday dismissed the case against two white men accused of attacking a black man because of his race.
During a preliminary hearing in Rockingham County General District Court, Judge Marvin Hillsman dismissed the case against Christian Dane Reinertson, 20, of Harrisonburg, and Jacob Devoshen Faircloth, 23, of Wise.
Both were charged with felony assault and battery as a hate crime.
In addition to credibility issues with the complainant, Hillsman said, the case didn’t meet the criteria for a conviction under Virginia law. The judge said the law states that the defendant must “intentionally select by race” the victim.
“There was no proof,” the judge said.
While the charges were dismissed, the case might not be over.
Prosecutors say they are considering seeking indictments against the pair by a Rockingham County grand jury in the near future.
The investigation began around 2:30 a.m. on Oct. 12, when Harrisonburg police were dispatched to the 1000 block of Lois Lane for a report of an assault.
The complainant told police he was leaving a home when several people began spitting on him from a deck of a nearby residence and calling him racial slurs. Police say alcoholic beverages also were thrown at the accuser.
Police say after the accuser asked the others why they were harassing him, the two defendants jumped from the railing of the deck and attacked him.
According to the police report, the man was hit in the face then kicked numerous times by the two defendants after falling to the ground. He sustained non-life-threatening injuries.
During Tuesday’s hearing, the accuser changed his story and testified that the defendants didn’t jump over the railing. Instead, he told the court, he ran up the stairs to confront the people yelling slurs.
He testified he confronted Faircloth, who then blew smoke from a cigarette into his face. The complainant, who admitted to drinking several alcoholic beverages and beer during a two-hour period before the fight, said he smacked the cigarette from Faircloth’s hand.
Defense attorneys William Helsley and John Holloran suggested that the complainant started the fight.
“That’s what started the melee. ... That’s what caused the fight,” argued Holloran, who represented Reinertson.
In addition to the complaining witness, prosecutors called two additional witnesses to the stand.
One neighbor, who according to testimony had been drinking alcohol, testified that he saw both defendants beating the alleged victim while yelling racial and gay slurs.
A second neighbor, who had not been drinking, said all she heard were gay slurs but didn’t see how the fight started.
Hillsman, remarking that the prosecution’s second witness had been the most credible, said uttering gay slurs does not meet the requirements under the state’s hate crime statute for conviction.
Helsley, who represented Faircloth, argued that the complainant was the aggressor, even if his client had insulted him.
“Words alone, no matter how vile they may be, doesn’t justify assault and battery,” Helsley said.
Contact Pete DeLea at 574-6278 or firstname.lastname@example.org