Civil rights attorney: Charges in newspaper attack should have been upgraded to hate crime, attempted murder
Published 5:34 am Sunday, August 14, 2022
The jury trial for the first of two men charged in the brutal attack of American Press newspaper carrier Woodie Blanks is set to begin on Aug. 29.
Douglas Paul James, 32, will appear in the 30th Judicial District Court in Vernon Parish to face charges of second-degree battery for the Dec. 17, 2021, attack of 67-year-old Blanks.
Blanks was hand-delivering a newspaper that morning to the door of a Rosepine customer, James’ grandfather, when he was confronted by a group of men.
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“They asked me what I was doing there. I told them I was delivering the paper, like I had been for the past three years. I told them to go ask the man, that he would tell them who I was. That’s when they blindsided me. One of them hit me and knocked me to the ground. They kept hitting me,” Blanks said in an interview last year immediately after the attack.
Blanks’ injuries were severe. After being taken by ambulance to Beauregard Health in DeRidder, he was transported to Shreveport where doctors were forced to partially remove the pupil from his left eye. His right eye was also badly damaged. After multiple surgeries he has been told he may never fully regain his vision.
James and 24 year-old Dillon Matthew James were the only people to be arrested and charged for the attack. Both were arrested one week later, and authorities have said the men claimed the attack was the result of mistaken identity.
Sheriff Sam Craft said the men reported to detectives they believed Blanks was a prowler who had allegedly been seen on the property days before the attack. Craft said it was not his belief the men intended to kill Blanks, but Blanks’ attorneys said he feels differently.
Daryl K. Washington, a civil rights attorney based in Dallas, said he believes the men would have continued to beat Blanks until he was dead if the grandfather had not intervened.
“When you look at what they did and consider the severity of the injuries Mr. Blanks suffered, I do believe they tried to kill him,” Washington said.
Washington said he has been disappointed in what he called “reduced” charges the two men are facing for what they did to Blanks.
“They took his truck keys, at minimum they should be facing false imprisonment charges and I believe they deserve attempted murder charges. I also believe their charges should be enhanced as a hate crime given the way he was treated and profiled,” Washington said.
Many in the community have expressed their concerns the attack was racially motivated. Blanks is Black, his attackers are white. While Washington said he also shares those concerns, he said this attack goes beyond that.
“I do think this may have been motivated by a ‘you don’t belong here’ mentality, but at it’s core this is more than that. This is about right and wrong. These are issues that people think only happen in larger cities, but we see them in small towns and communities all the time and people need to be aware of it. How this is handled is going to send a very strong message to everyone that is watching. Otherwise, is anyone safe?” Washington said.
Washington also called into question the fact only two men have been charged in the attack, despite Blanks insisting that more than two people attacked him. In February, Craft said the investigation was ongoing, but to date no one else has been arrested or charged.
“We will be doing our own investigation. We plan to hold anyone who played a role in this attack on Mr. Blanks fully accountable for their actions that day,” Washington said.
For Blanks, his experience that morning will continue to haunt him no matter the outcome of the trial.
His recovery is ongoing, and Washington said it has been difficult to watch a man he described as one of the kindest people he has ever met struggle so badly.
“It’s been bad, it really has. Not only in a physical way, but emotionally. This is something you just don’t get over. His young daughters have had to see their father in this way, and there’s no way to fully describe how difficult that is. Mr. Blanks is the nicest man and would not harm anyone. There is nothing that makes me believe he said or did anything to deserve this kind of treatment, and I will not stop until I have get justice for this man.”