Johnnie Bryon Devault has been identified as the man who was recorded punching Black Lives Matter protester Nicholas Reardon in the back of the head during a rally in southwestern Ohio on June 14. Video of the incident was posted on social media and quickly went viral.
According to Bethel police, Devault was initially identified only by a biker nickname. But after videos of the incident spread online and more witnesses came forward, police were able to make a positive identification. Police issued a warrant for Devault’s arrest and charged him with assault. But as of this writing, Devault had not yet been apprehended.
The recorded assault happened during a day of chaos in Bethel that made headlines nationwide, during which hundreds of counterprotesters overran a small Black Lives Matter event in a village of fewer than 3,000 people. Bethel is located about 30 miles southeast of Cincinnati in Clermont County and the village has only six police officers.
Village Administrator Travis Dotson told the Washington Post no arrests were made that day because the few officers were “overwhelmed” by the size of the crowd. He added that the marchers were local residents while many of the counterprotesters were from out of town.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Devault Is a 64-Year-Old Man Whose Last Known Address Was In a Tiny Village Of About 100 People Located Along the Ohio River
— Josh Martinez (@YoJoshMartinez) June 15, 2020
Bethel Police issued a warrant for Devault’s arrest on June 17. But investigators have not been able to find Devault or get in touch with him, according to a news release. His birthday was listed as August 28, 1955, putting Devault’s age at 64. It was not immediately clear whether Devault is employed or retired.
The warrant, which was filed in Clermont County Municipal Court, states that Devault faces a first-degree misdemeanor assault charge. The officer wrote that during a Black Lives Matter protest, Devault punched a protester in the back of the head “in an attempt to cause physical harm. This incident was recorded on several recording devices and surrendered to police as evidence of a crime.” The warrant also noted that “several crime tips from the public” helped the department identify Devault as the man in the video.
According to Clermont County court records, Devault can expect a potential $2,000 bond once he is arrested. The record shows the judge granted a Temporary Protection Order on behalf of the victim. A motion for a “Criminal Stalking Protection Order” was also filed.
Bethel Police posted images of the warrant on Facebook and did not blur out Devault’s address. Devault’s last-known address was in a tiny village called Neville, which is located along the Ohio River on the border with Kentucky. According to census data, Neville had a population of about 100 people as of 2019.
2. Devault Was Charged For Domestic Violence In 2010 But the Case Was Dropped
Devault’s record includes several prior arrests in Ohio and Florida. He was arrested and charged with domestic battery in November 2010 in Duval County, Florida. The charge was a first-degree misdemeanor and Devault entered a “not guilty” plea. Court records show Devault was released without needing to post cash bail and he was ordered to stay away from the victim. The record suggests the prosecutor dropped the case in January 2011.
In Bay County, Florida, Devault was cited for driving without a valid license in 2007. The record shows he failed to appear in court at least once before entering a no-contest plea. An “order of insolvency” was also filed. Devault signed paperwork in 2010 stating that he was unemployed, had no financial assets and his debt totaled $500.
In 2002, Devault was arrested in Hamilton County, Ohio, for two traffic violations. In March of that year, he was charged for driving with counterfeit plates. He was “convicted by plea” in that case and paid a fine. In December 2002, Devault was arrested again, this time for driving without a valid license. He was again ordered to pay a fine.
According to The Smoking Gun, Devault’s record also includes arrests for grand theft and receiving stolen property. The website reported that prosecutors did not pursue criminal charges in either of those instances.
3. Counterprotesters Vastly Outnumbered Black Lives Matter Protesters On June 14 & Police Were Investigating at Least 10 Clashes
The Bethel Police Department shared in a news release that they were notified ahead of time about a planned protest for Sunday, June 14. The event was called “Bethel’s Solidarity with Black Lives Demonstration.” Organizers collaborated with police about which streets protesters would occupy and for how long. The group initially thought the march would attract about 25 people but approximately 100 showed up to participate.
But the small event was dwarfed by a massive counter-protest of about 700 people. Bethel Police explained the crowd included several “motorcycle gangs, back the blue groups, and second amendment advocates.” Police said the counterprotesters moved toward the Bethel’s Solidarity with Black Lives Demonstration area and “this resulted in approximately 10 incidents” including the one involving a demonstrator getting punched in the back of the head.
Fox19 reported that some people in the crowd carried guns and baseball bats. The Clermont Sun reported that “motorcycle gang” were inciting violence by threatening peaceful demonstrators, destroying Black Lives Matter signs and accusing participants of being racist against white people. The newspaper added that one Clermont Sun reporter was told to “leave town, or else.” In the video embedded above, people can be heard making comments such as, “All lives matter here, “This is a Republican state” and “You’re in the wrong town. This ain’t Seattle.”
4. Video Shows Reardon Was Surrounded By Counterprotesters Before He Was Punched In the Head
In the video that documented the leadup to the punch, Black Lives Matter demonstrator Nicholas Reardon appeared to be alone amid a crowd of counterprotesters. People in the crowd can be heard shouting at Reardon to go home as at least three officers urged everyone to get out of the street.
Devault was recorded standing beside Reardon at the 3:40 mark, in the video embedded above. He was wearing a bandana that was described as being decorated with a Confederate flag. Devault briefly moved out of the frame as Reardon walked onto the sidewalk. Chants of “USA” were heard and one person was heard telling Reardon to “Get the f*ck out of here, boy.”
By the 4:02 mark, Devault was seen standing behind Reardon before punching him a few seconds later. Devault calmly walked away after the hit. Reardon flinched and looked behind him to see who had punched him. He then turned to a nearby officer and said, “Sir, I just got punched in the back of the head.”
The back of the police officer’s hat was in the frame of the video as Reardon was hit. But Bethel Police say the officer didn’t witness the punch because he was looking elsewhere at that moment.
It’s unclear what all was said after that as multiple people shouted over each other. Reardon then asked where he was allowed to demonstrate, which triggered an animated response from several people in the crowd who all shouted at once. At least one person yelled “Cincinnati” as others screamed at Reardon to “get out of our town” and called him a “mama’s boy.”
5. Reardon Wrote On Reddit That Devault Hit Him ‘Just as Everyone Looked Away’
Reardon later explained in a post on Reddit that he initially did not see the point in filing a police report because he wasn’t sure who had hit him. “I was talking to one of the officers here when someone walked up and sucker punched me from behind. I was asked if I wanted to file a report. Like filing a report on an irrationally angry mob was going to do any good.”
Reardon also addressed the controversy about whether the police officer seen in the viral clip failed to step in and protect him. Reardon noted in his post that he thought the video was “kind of misleading.” He explained, “the man who hit me did it just as everyone looked away. The officer in from of me asked me to step back for my safety and for me to file a report. I believe there are a lot of bad cops out there, but I respect a lot of the ones in this town.”