Amid the hundreds of supporters of President Donald Trump who stormed the U.S. Capitol Wednesday, the face of West Virginia Delegate Derrick Evans rose up above the crowd.
News outlets throughout the country reported Evans’ presence at the Capitol, broadcasting a video Evans posted to his personal “Derrick Evans — The Activist” Facebook page. In the video, Evans can be heard shouting “Derrick Evans is in the Capitol!” for all to hear as he entered the building.
The reaction from Charleston lawyer, Sean Cook, was a lack of surprise.
Cook successfully sought a protective order against Evans in 2019 on behalf of a volunteer at the West Virginia Women’s Health Center in Charleston.
Evans’ actions Wednesday were the latest in a long line of activity that showed “contempt for the law,” Cook said.
“Derrick Evans is a lawmaker who has previously demonstrated he has no respect for the law, and it culminated when he acted as leader in the insurrection of January 6, 2021,” Cook said in an email Thursday. “He took an oath to uphold and defend the United States Constitution, and then brazenly videoed and publicly posted footage of he and his followers attempting a coup against the United States.”
Acting U.S. Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen said Thursday he intends to make sure “that those responsible for this attack on our Government and the rule of law face the full consequences of their actions under the law.” Later in the day, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia Mike Stuart said he supported Rosen’s message, and his team of prosecutors is working with law enforcement to collect evidence and proceed how the facts and the law dictate.
“The rule of law is paramount to the maintenance of freedom,” Stuart said. “The right to peaceful assembly and demonstration is a fundamental right, but that right does not extend to committing violence in the name of any cause or purpose.”
By Thursday morning, Evans, R-Wayne, had returned to his home in Wayne County.
A Gazette-Mail reporter knocked on Evans’ door Thursday and was told by his wife that Evans was not home. Evans, 35, and his wife have three young children and a fourth due in February.
Minutes before the Gazette-Mail reporter, a WSAZ-TV reporter had tried to speak with Evans. The WSAZ reporter said he was told by Evans’ wife that the delegate was home but unavailable — and that the reporter was “fake news” and should leave.
Attorney John H. Bryan issued a statement about his client, Evans, Thursday evening, saying Evans did nothing wrong, engaged in no violence, rioting, destruction of property or illegal behavior. He said Evans was exercising his First Amendment rights to peacefully protest and film the event. He said Evans “absolutely was not part of the main body of protestors who were on the West side of the U.S. Capitol, or elsewhere. He had no knowledge at the time of what was happening on the other side of the complex, nor inside the Capitol after the other group forcibly entered.”
Bryan said it appeared from Evans’ point of view that the group was being allowed in by Capitol Police and that, because of the size of the group, he had no choice but to enter.
“Derrick Evans takes his responsibility and oath as the duly elected voice of the people of West Virginia House District 19 extremely seriously. His constituents knew that they were electing an activist to the office. He was acting in good faith to this regard at all times. Just as the courts don’t judge police officers with 20/20 hindsight for the split second judgments they’re often forced to make, Derrick Evans should not be condemned as a member of the group of violent and destructive protestors elsewhere at the Capitol that day. He had no involvement with them and never witnessed their behavior,” the statement reads. “Therefore, Delegate Derrick Evans will not be resigning his public office.”
A teacher-coach, then a stalker
Before he was “The Activist,” Evans worked as a teacher in Wayne County schools from 2013 to 2017, during which time he also was a football coach at Tolsia High School.
His profile on LinkedIn indicates that he had coaching positions at Virginia Tech and West Virginia State University.
Evans started Evans REI in 2017, a real estate investment firm. A background check performed by the Gazette-Mail indicates Evans owns houses in Huntington, in addition to his home in Prichard.
On May 29, 2019, a Kanawha magistrate issued a protective order against Evans on behalf of Jamie Miller, who worked at the West Virginia Women’s Health Center. The center is the only facility in the state where health care providers perform abortions.
Miller sought the order saying Evans was stalking and harassing her while indicating he had a weapon while she worked at the center. She also provided evidence of Evans livestreaming his harassment to at least 11,000 people on his “Derrick Evans – The Activist” Facebook page, according to court records in Kanawha Magistrate Court.
Evans was ordered to refrain from contacting Miller, even through a third party, by any means, including social media. He also was ordered to stay away from the Women’s Health Center.
On May 29, 2019, Evans referred to Miller, not by name, in a Facebook livestream, lying about the protective order, falsely claiming Miller had tried but was unsuccessful in obtaining the order, according to court records. A person following the livestream said Miller’s name in the comments.
On May 30, 2019, Evans appeared on a local radio show and lied about the order, saying the order actually had been issued against Miller to protect him, the records state.
Evans also filed for a protective order against Miller in Wayne Magistrate Court, claiming she spit on him, but he dropped the petition as part of an agreement in the Kanawha case to avoid jail time or fines for violating the Kanawha protective order against him.
“His past actions in violating and denying the existence of a personal safety order legally issued for his stalking and making repeated threats of bodily injury is squarely relevant to federal and state investigations,” Cook said. “It represents a pattern of unlawful conduct and contempt for the law, and Mr. Evans now faces potential criminal charges in multiple jurisdictions.”
The protective order was in effect until Dec. 31, 2020. In October 2020, Cook said he had to contact Evans’ attorney after Evans posted a video of Miller on his campaign page.
Evans removed the video once his lawyer told him it could get him in legal trouble, Cook said.
Voters in Monongalia County reelected Delegate Danielle Walker, a Democrat, to her second term in the House in November. Listeners of “Appodlachia: An Appalachian Podcast” voted Walker Appalachian Activist of the Year for 2020.
Walker notably participated in peaceful protests for the Black Lives Matter movement and for LGBTQ rights throughout West Virginia last year. She also called on Gov. Jim Justice to condemn a group of white supremacists who she said approached peaceful protesters in Kingwood in September and pushed them around, shouting racial slurs at them.
When Walker saw what happened in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, she said her reaction was “pure embarrassment and anxiety” at the “disregard to the Constitution, the disregard to law enforcement, disregard to democracy and a disregard to how we define patriotism.”
“When you hear people in public say, ‘We are better than this,’ my question is, may it be rhetorical, ‘Are we truly?’ ” Walker said Thursday. “You showed up and you showed out yesterday. You do not represent me. You do not speak for me, so where is my voice in all of this? Where are the consequences? Where are the arrests? Why did this person have the ability to post on social media that they were safely back on the bus, heading back to our state?”
Walker took to social media Wednesday with many of her legislative colleagues to condemn the insurrection in Washington, D.C., and likewise called on House leaders and her peers to impose consequences on Evans.
House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, released a statement Wednesday saying Evans would have to “answer to his constituents and colleagues regarding his involvement in what has occurred today.”
Hanshaw was in the process of gathering as much information as possible about what happened, House Communications Director Jared Hunt said.
Hanshaw said he planned to “evaluate all the potential consequences once the totality of the situation is understood.”
At least one lawmaker had supported Evans’ trip to Washington. Delegate John Mandt, R-Cabell, showed his support for Evans in Facebook comments Wednesday, saying he wished he could have traveled to the U.S. Capitol. Mandt last year resigned from office after homophobic comments he made in a Facebook chat became public. He was reelected in November.
House Minority Leader Doug Skaff, D-Kanawha, released a statement supporting Hanshaw’s condemnation of Evans’ actions, and he urged Hanshaw to suspend Evans’ rights, privileges and access to the West Virginia State Capitol Building.
Skaff has been the president of HD Media, the company that owns the Gazette-Mail, since November 2020.
“This is unacceptable behavior and conduct unbecoming of an elected official,” Skaff said in the statement. “Delegate Derrick Evans has made threats on social media directed at other West Virginians, including threats directed at other legislators. Those comments, coupled with his most recent actions at the U.S. Capitol, are cause for alarm and a real safety concern for all those who work at our State Capitol Complex.”
West Virginia Senate Minority Leader Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier, released a statement Wednesday acknowledging that Evans had videoed himself participating in the insurrection.
“There is no place for him in the WV Legislature,” Baldwin said.
Baldwin told West Virginians to check on their neighbors, help someone in need and engage with those who are different than you.
“When our state was born, it took tremendous strength to carve West Virginia out of a divided nation,” Baldwin said in reference to West Virginia gaining statehood during the Civil War. “We are divided again today. It will take all our better angels to heal us.”
Delegate Joshua Higginbotham, R-Putnam, gave statements in a series of tweets Wednesday evening saying that while he had been a Trump supporter for about five years, the actions of his fellow Trump supporters in Washington, D.C., were horrendous.
Higginbotham said he and his colleagues are willing to vote to remove Evans from the Legislature.
“Republican, Democrat or Independent, all elected officials must be held accountable,” Higginbotham said. “I will fight to uphold the values I believe in even if it means opposing a member of my own party.”
Only one member of the Senate’s Republican majority had issued a formal statement regarding Evans as of Thursday evening.
Sen. Eric Nelson, R-Kanawha, called on Evans to resign, and asked Hanshaw and House members to take action if Evans doesn’t.
“As members of the West Virginia Legislature, we have an obligation to conduct ourselves in a manner that is worthy of the office we hold and a reverence for the responsibility and public trust we have been given,” Nelson said. “Delegate Evans has wholly failed in those regards.”