A judge’s order this week vacated the jail sentence and ordered a new sentencing hearing for a Black man arrested at a protest last summer, arguing that prosecutors gave a more lenient deal to a White defendant charged with the same crimes.
After a peaceful Black Lives Matter candlelight vigil in the North End on June 2, 2020, about 100 people gathered for an impromptu demonstration on a corner on South Willow Street, though Black Lives Matter organizers urged everyone to go home after the earlier vigil.
People held protest signs and chanted “Black Lives Matter” to drivers on South Willow Street who honked or revved their engines. A few people lit fireworks, and others tossed plastic water bottles into the road. Police and National Guard officers massed across the street, and ordered protesters to disperse about an hour later. Several people were arrested, but no businesses were damaged and no one was hurt.
During the tense evening, Manchester police alleged, Antwan Stroud, then 18, spit on a police car and egged on another person, Kyle Toledo, then 20, who was lighting fireworks. Both were charged with reckless conduct and felony riot, and both negotiated plea agreements with prosecutors, pleading guilty to one misdemeanor each.
But while Toledo received an effective sentence of 50 hours of community service, Stroud was sentenced to 30 days in jail and two years of probation.
Stroud got a new attorney and moved to withdraw his guilty plea. He questioned the work of his first lawyer and asked why prosecutors never brought up the movement toward a plea deal in Toledo’s very-similar case.
Justice N. William Delker vacated Stroud’s sentence this week.
“The state failed to establish a rational basis for the disparate treatment of the two co-defendants,” Delker wrote in the ruling, ordering a new sentencing hearing after learning about the lighter sentence Toledo received.
“How could any defendant have confidence in the fairness of the criminal justice system?” Delker asked, when someone who faced the same charges, who was standing next to him during the unrest, got no jail time, “simply because the prosecutor decided to treat one man more harshly than the other?”
Hillsborough County Attorney John Coughlin has defended Stroud’s sentence and the plea agreement offered by prosecutors in his office.
Coughlin said he believed the initial sentence of 30 day in jail and two years of probation was the right one, he wrote in an email. Hillsborough County prosecutors will ask Delker to reconsider his decision, he said, and keep Stroud’s original sentence.
Coughlin declined to comment further, saying the case was still ongoing.