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The attack on Dave Chappelle didn't constitute a felony, LA DA says

Dave Chappelle last month at the opening of Netflix is a Joke.
Phillip Faraone
Getty Images for Netflix
Dave Chappelle last month at the opening of Netflix is a Joke.

The Los Angeles County district attorney has defended his decision to not file felony charges against the man who attacked comedian Dave Chappelle last week.

Isaiah Lee, 23, remains behind bars, accused of tackling the comedian onstage at the Hollywood Bowl. Lee pleaded not guilty to four misdemeanor charges filed by a different office, that of the city attorney. LA's District Attorney George Gascón told reporters on Tuesday that Lee's behavior wasn't consistent with a felony.

"Mr. Lee was not holding a weapon when he rushed Mr. Chappelle, and we can see that by the video and we also know that from the interviews with witnesses," Gascón said during a news conference Tuesday. "Security quickly separated the two men and Mr. Chappelle was not injured."

The LAPD said Lee had in his possession a replica gun with a retractable knife. The office even provided photos of the weapon. But Gascón says Lee wasn't holding it and the knife blade was always folded.

Police are still investigating a possible motive for the attack that happened as Chappelle was performing during the Netflix Is A Joke festival. Audience members surreptitiously videotaped the incident with their cellphone cameras. Hollywood Bowl security guards chased the man backstage, and reportedly stamped on him before the police arrived.

Gascón's new statements come days after Chappelle's attorney Gabriel Colwell blasted the decision not to file felony charges for assault with a deadly weapon, for which Lee was originally booked.

"Mr. Chappelle wants this case charged as a felony," Colwell told Rolling Stone. "Ten thousand people saw Dave Chappelle assaulted on stage at the Hollywood Bowl last Tuesday night, and the assailant had a deadly weapon on him. The fact that this isn't charged as a felony case by the DA is insane.''

The district attorney is facing a recall movement over his criminal justice reforms. This week, in addition to defending his decision about Lee, he announced plans to convene a roundtable to address security measures at concert venues. "We all have a right to feel safe when we're attending these events," Gascón said in a statement. "We will ensure that safety measures are taken to protect performers so that Los Angeles can continue to be a hub for music, comedy and other artistic performances in this country."

Lee was charged with misdemeanor 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 an event or interferes with a performer. This week, he appeared in court Tuesday for a bail review hearing, and is due back in court on May 20 for a pre-trial hearing; A judge ordered him to stay at least 100 yards away from Chappelle, the Hollywood Bowl and any venue where the comedian performs if Lee is able to post the $30,000 bail.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

As an arts correspondent based at NPR West, Mandalit del Barco reports and produces stories about film, television, music, visual arts, dance and other topics. Over the years, she has also covered everything from street gangs to Hollywood, police and prisons, marijuana, immigration, race relations, natural disasters, Latino arts and urban street culture (including hip hop dance, music, and art). Every year, she covers the Oscars and the Grammy awards for NPR, as well as the Sundance Film Festival and other events. Her news reports, feature stories and photos, filed from Los Angeles and abroad, can be heard on All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition, Alt.latino, and npr.org.