Dave Chappelle is not happy that Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón declined to file felony charges against the man who tackled him to the ground onstage during the Netflix Is A Joke festival earlier this week — and he wants the county’s top prosecutor to claw the case back from misdemeanor court, his lawyer says.
“We request that DA Gascón reconsider, correct this mistake and charge this as a felony,” Chappelle’s lawyer Gabriel Colwell tells Rolling Stone. “This is what Mr. Chappelle wants. Mr. Chappelle wants this case charged as a felony.”
The lawyer said it’s not just about his client. “Entertainers in Los Angeles need to know that the justice system will protect them on stage,” he said.
“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,” Colwell, a partner at Squire Patton Boggs, said.
Suspect Isaiah Lee, 23, is now facing four misdemeanor charges filed late Thursday by the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office after the case was kicked over by Gascón. Lee is accused of barging onstage and violently sacking Chappelle while possessing a replica gun with a switchblade during the wild takedown. At his arraignment Friday, he pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor battery, misdemeanor possession of a deadly weapon with intent to assault and two violations related to storming the stage and interfering with a performance.
The arraignment coincided with the DA’s office releasing a document explaining why it declined the case. According to the worksheet, a “slow-motion review of video footage” showed Lee was not brandishing the weapon when he hurled himself at Chapelle. The DA’s office said it was only after Lee ran backstage that he allegedly reached in his waistband for the weapon that was knocked out of his hands by a security guard.
Lee, who was arrested after the attack and booked on suspicion of felony assault with a deadly weapon, was still in custody Friday, wearing a quilted blue protective vest and waist shackle for his first court appearance. His right arm was bandaged and in a sling as he stood silently behind a partition. His public defender, Chelsea Padilla, entered his not guilty plea on his behalf and argued for his release without bail. She said Lee had “no prior history of violence” and was on the cusp of transitioning to permanent housing through a community based nonprofit. Padilla said Lee had eight days left to sign his lease or lose his place in line for the supportive housing.
Padilla, who fought in vain to exclude media from the hearing, highlighted the fact that police reports said her client’s alleged weapon “was not brandished at any time.” She said, at most, the allegation is that Lee was trying to reach for the replica gun during the scuffle with security. She then confirmed her client suffered a “broken arm and significant facial injuries” in the ensuing melee. She pointed out that “video has been released of about 12 people stomping Lee while he was on stage.”
Los Angeles City Attorney Henrico Bautista revealed in court that Padilla’s motion to seal the arraignment included the argument her client has an undisclosed “mental health condition” and is receiving “mental health treatment.” Bautista said Lee “reached into his waistband and tried to use a folding knife” after he “charged a vulnerable victim onstage who was not expecting it.”
Before the judge denied Lee’s release and ordered him back to jail with bail still set at $30,000, Colwell appeared by phone and asked the court to issue a strict protective order. He specifically asked that the order include the comedian’s residence in Ohio and “any venue at which Mr. Chappelle is performing.”
The judge granted the order, saying that upon his release, Lee must stay 100 yards away from Chappelle at all times and steer clear of his residences, venues where he’s performing, and the Hollywood Bowl, where the Tuesday night takedown occurred.
According to the DA’s felony charge declination paperwork obtained by Rolling Stone, DA officials determined Chappelle was not injured in the incident and that the approximately three-inch blade contained in the replica gun remained in the “retracted position” the whole time. They also found no evidence Lee had any prior “animus” toward Chappelle, and there was no “previous credible threat that might have caused the victim to be in reasonable in fear of his safety,” the paperwork states.
The worksheet noted that Lee did release a rap song titled “Dave Chappell” in 2020, but DA officials determined “none of the lyrics, tone or language of the song suggested any threats or hatred” toward the comedian.
Chappelle shared new details about the attack during a last-minute “secret show” at the Comedy Store’s 70-seat Belly Room on Thursday night, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Fellow comedian Chris Rock, who was slapped by actor Will Smith at the 2022 Oscars and also was at the Hollywood Bowl Tuesday night, joined him on stage as the men traded jokes.
“At least you got smacked by someone of repute,” Chappelle reportedly said. “I got smacked by a homeless guy with leaves in his hair.”
Rock then said of Smith, “I got smacked by the softest n***a that ever rapped.”
Chappelle further revealed he was able to convince police to let him speak with Lee before the suspect was carted off to a hospital in custody. The comedian said Lee appeared to be mentally disturbed and told him he was trying to draw attention to the problem of gentrification in his grandmother’s Brooklyn neighborhood.
Lee’s brother, Aaron Lee, previously told Rolling Stone that Lee moved from New York to California after his grandmother died. He said his brother has been in and out of homeless shelters in Los Angeles in recent years and has struggled with his mental health. It wasn’t immediately clear if Isaiah Lee was referring to his deceased grandmother.
“He does take psych medicine, and that probably was a factor. And then maybe something triggered him acting like that. I don’t know,” Aaron Lee says. “He’s not the type of person to attack you for no reason. But if he’s not on his medication, and if he feels everyone is against him, maybe that’s it.”
Lee was charged by the Los Angeles City Attorney Thursday after the Los Angeles County District Attorney rejected the case saying the evidence didn’t rise to the level of felony conduct, even though Lee allegedly had a replica gun with a switchblade in his hand during the incident.
“What should have been an evening of laughter at the Hollywood Bowl this past Tuesday night was suddenly interrupted when suspect Isaiah Lee allegedly charged onto the stage and tackled comedian Dave Chappelle,” City Attorney Mike Feuer said in a video statement. “This alleged attack has got to have consequences.”