Last Tuesday night, May 3, 2022, Dave Chappelle was attacked by a man while Chappelle was performing at the “Netflix Is a Joke Festival” at the Hollywood Bowl. The 23 year old attacker, Isaiah Lee, who was wearing a black hoodie, rushed the stage and knocked the comic down to the ground. Chappelle was not injured during the attack. The attacker was in possession of “a replica handgun with a knife.” Security guards and members of Chappelle’s team stopped Lee, who was promptly arrested.
The police initially announced that Lee would be charged with felony assault with a deadly weapon. Two days after the arrest, however, a spokesperson from the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office stated that the case had been referred the the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office and that only misdemeanor charges would be filed. Prosecutors explained that after thoroughly reviewing the evidence, they determined that a felony was not committed. The City Attorney charged Lee with battery, possession of a weapon with intent to assault, unauthorized access to the stage area during a performance and commission of an act that delays the event or interferes with a performer. If convicted on all counts, he faces up to 18 months in county jail and/or up to $4,000 in fines. Lee has entered a “not guilty” plea to all charges.
Chappelle’s lawyer called the refusal to prosecute this case as a felony, “A travesty of justice.” He argued that because Lee had a deadly weapon on him his actions constituted a violent assault. He added that, “Entertainers in LA need to know this is a justice system that will protect them. There is no question here that when someone is violently assaulted by another in possession of a deadly weapon that it should be charged as a felony.”
THE RIGHT OUTCOME
Let me start the legal analysis with expressing understanding for those who think he should be charged with a felony. His act was a very dangerous one and should be met with the maximum charges. The message needs to be sent that any unwarranted physical contact with live performers shall not be tolerated. That said, prosecutors can only bring charges that are legally justified. In this case, had they charged him with a felony, prosecutors would be committing a miscarriage of justice. Before filing any charges, prosecutors must ensure that they can prove all elements of the crime beyond and to the exclusion of every reasonable doubt. In this case, they could not prove all the elements of any proposed felony. Because the attacker did not actually brandish and/or display the weapon (his gun/knife) in any way, a felony assault could not be proven. Additionally, the charge of carrying a concealed weapon cannot be charged because the blade that Lee was carrying was not locked in an open position, as the California statute requires. My position, and that of prosecutors, would be different if evidence proved that Lee opened the knife at any time during his attack of Chappelle. It would actually be unethical to charge the attacker with a felony when prosecutors don’t have proof of all the required elements in the statute.
While there are instances when prosecutors fail to properly charge defendants, this case isn’t one of them. They could have easily caved to public pressure and unethically overcharged Chappelle’s attacker. That would have been a colossal waste of time and tax payer’s money since if ultimately convicted of a felony, the attacker’s case would have been reversed by an appellate court for lack of evidence. Instead of being criticized, prosecutors involved in this case should be commended for following the law.