Story by Chris Graham
Charlottesville Commonwealth’s attorney Warner D. Chapman said today that he will not recommend that charges be brought against supporters of Sen. George Allen who confronted a liberal blogger asking questions of the senator at an event at the Omni Hotel last month.
“While several individuals could be charged with one or more misdemeanor offenses such as assault and battery or disorderly conduct, it is apparent from the evidence that no participant sought to strike or injure another person,” Chapman said in a statement issued this afternoon.
The Oct. 31 incident began when blogger and first-year University of Virginia law student Mike Stark approached the senator after a speech at the Omni and began to ask him a question about records of two arrests that have been rumored to have been related to the breakup of his first marriage.
An Allen campaign aide got between Stark and the senator, and when Stark continued to try to address his question to Allen, John Darden, a former Albemarle County Republican Party chairman, tackled him to the ground.
The incident was caught on videotape by two Charlottesville television stations – WCAV-CBS19 and WVIR-NBC29. Charlottesville police investigators reviewed both videotapes – which have been widely disseminated on the Internet.
“The recordings facilitated the process of identifying all the participants in the events and nearly all of the material witnesses,” Chapman said today. “In addition to the video recordings, the number and variety of participants and witnesses who cooperated with the investigation provide a basis upon which one may have confidence that the available evidence constitutes a full and fair record of the events under consideration.”
Chapman’s read of the incident is that “on the one hand, Mr. Stark actively and aggressively sought to approach Sen. Allen for the purpose of shouting questions at him in the full view of the assembled media. In doing so he made physical contact with members of Sen. Allen’s staff and supporters under circumstances in which a reasonable person would be concerned for the senator’s safety and unsure of Mr. Stark’s precise intentions.”
“A defensive reaction from one or more of these individuals was reasonably to be expected under the circumstances,” Chapman said.
“On the other hand, after the onset of physical contact between Mr. Stark and members of Sen. Allen’s group, it appears from the evidence that at least one of them, John Darden, began to react with anger toward Mr. Stark because of what he was saying, in contrast with the legitimate concern for the senator that may have influenced his initial reactions to Mr. Stark’s approach and demeanor,” Chapman said.
“Although Mr. Darden ends up on the ground with Mr. Stark, he quickly releases his grasp as another individual assists Mr. Stark to his feet and ushers him out of the building. In the Commonwealth’s view, this behavior is inconsistent with a conclusion that Mr. Darden intended to harm Mr. Stark,” Chapman said.
“As much as emotions may have come to influence the behavior and judgment of several individuals who were involved in this incident, the balance of evidence reflects that no one sought to hurt anyone. Under these circumstances, rather than urge that cross warrants be sought between the parties to the physical altercation that took place, the Commonwealth’s recommendation is that no charges be sought by law enforcement,” Chapman said.