Authorities charged two men with misdemeanor assault in what Charlottesville police described Wednesday as a disagreement on the Downtown Mall that escalated into an altercation.
Malcolm James Stevenson, 25, and Richard Bernard Spears, 23, both of Charlottesville, turned themselves in to police and were released, city police Chief Timothy J. Longo said in an afternoon news conference.
The incident took place at about 1:30 a.m. Dec. 20, when a man tripped as he walked on the mall with a woman. A disagreement followed between him and passersby, the chief said. Witnesses told police the man was lifted up by another, thrown to the ground and repeatedly struck, Longo said. The second man hit the woman in the head, Longo said.
“What began as a verbal altercation between the individuals evolved into a physical altercation,” Longo said.
The man suffered a broken tooth and what Longo described as soft-tissue injuries. Reports that the he’d also suffered cracked ribs and a fractured ankle have not been confirmed, Longo said.
Passersby called 911 and photos the woman took during the assault led police to contact Stevenson and Spears, both of whom were cooperative, Longo said.
Longo said the misdemeanor charge was filed because there was no indication the men intended to cause serious harm.
“The difficulty lies with respect to the malicious wounding is that the commonwealth has to prove intent to maim, disfigure,” Longo said. “There’s nothing to indicate there was any other bias or intent from either party.”
The case has generated a stir over the response of police, who left the investigation in the hands of patrol officers until Dec. 30, when Longo assigned it to detectives.
Referring to the delay, Longo said, “I don’t know whether or not it would have resulted in any different outcome, but it created a perception in the minds of others that the department hadn’t taken the matter seriously and that nothing had been done.
“I think it did influence the public’s perception of how seriously we took this incident and incidents like it.”
Longo said the department has adjusted its internal policies to ensure similar reports are reviewed by supervisors and transferred to investigators as soon as possible.
“Every morning, both captains as well as the investigations commander will look at every investigative report that went into the system within the past 24 hours,” Longo said. “I wish I’d come in myself to look at the report, but I didn’t. I wish I would have and the case would have been assigned to investigations sometime before Christmas.”
The male victim declined to make a statement to police immediately afterward and would neither accept medical care nor permit his injuries to be photographed, Longo said. The man contacted police the next day and detailed his injuries, the chief said. The man’s Facebook posts indicate he also received medical treatment later that day.
The victims met with investigators Jan. 2, Longo said
Stevenson and Spears are scheduled for a Feb. 5 preliminary hearing in Charlottesville General District Court.