LYNCHBURG, Va. (WFXR) — A Black Lives Matter protester, Andrew Stegner, was found not guilty of a felony related to his participation in a protest last summer in Lynchburg. However, he was found guilty of a misdemeanor.
You might remember a protest that started as a non-violent boycott of Fifth and Federal restaurant on May 31, 2020, after what many in the community called a racist tweet sent from the restaurant’s account. Later in the night, rocks were thrown, damaging at least two buildings and a police car.
At least 15 people were arrested, one of whom sustained injuries from his arrest that required him to use a wheelchair.
The lesser charge was a misdemeanor for participating in a riot. Nobody in court disputed that he participated. He was found guilty and sentenced to one month.
“We’re not going to tolerate this…in our backyard,” said Judge F. Patrick Yeatts, saying he wanted to send “a message.”
Yeatts said Stegner must report to the jail on April 9, setting a delayed report date in the hopes that the ongoing COVID-19 spike will subside somewhat. Yeatts also approved work release weekends.
The felony charge against Stegner was for throwing a projectile into an occupied building.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Bethany Harrison argued that Stegner threw a rock into Fifth and Federal, one of the buildings that was damaged. As we previously reported, armed militia members were in the restaurant that night. Harrison argued Stegner had malicious intent, showing additional video from that night of Stegner urging police to address the armed individuals.
“This was an opportunity to strike back at what he thought was a just cause,” argued Harrison.
“I wasn’t there to protest Fifth and Federal,” said Stegner, taking the stand, and disputing any ill will against the restaurant. “I was at a Black Lives Matter protest in front of Fifth and Federal.”
The building next door, Adams Motor Company, was also damaged, and it was not occupied at the time.
Harrison played a video from that night that shows Stegner appearing to throw something in the direction of the buildings.
Stegner said he did throw a rock but said he threw it at the unoccupied building.
Ultimately Judge Yeatts said the Commonwealth did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Stegner threw a rock at Fifth and Federal.
“I don’t know that I can tell from the evidence,” said Yeatts, referencing the video and suggesting it’s not clear which building Stegner was aiming for or hit. “It’s not your burden to disprove. It’s the Commonwealth’s burden to prove.”
Yeatts found Stegner not guilty of the felony charge.
Another protestor, Brian Davis, was originally scheduled to be tried alongside Stegner. At the last minute, Davis decided he wanted a jury trial instead of a bench trial.
His attorney told WFXR News that he did not expect Davis to make that last-minute decision and expects the trial will take place this summer.
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