Hillsborough County’s top prosecutor said Thursday that his office’s decisions about prosecutions are based not on a defendant’s race, but on the facts of each case.
Republican County Attorney John Coughlin made the comment the day after lawyers for Antwan Stroud, 18, filed papers highlighting apparent disparities in the sentences of Black and White defendants involved in unrest this past summer in Manchester following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.
In January, a Hillsborough County Superior Court judge sided with prosecutors and sentenced Stroud, who is Black, to 30 days in jail and two years of probation. A White man who participated in the protest alongside Stroud received no jail time or probation.
“The Hillsborough County Attorney’s Office treats each defendant with respect and equally under the rule of law,” Coughlin wrote in an email to the Union Leader.
“It is the facts of each case and the equal application under the law that we consider and not the color of one’s skin.”
He anticipates that his office will file an objection to Stroud’s request.
In a lengthy document filed Wednesday, Stroud’s new lawyers fault Coughlin’s prosecutor for not providing information about the sentences of others arrested in connection with the June 2 unrest on South Willow Street.
A prosecutor has a duty to turn over such information, Stroud’s lawyers said. They also said Stroud would not have agreed to a guilty plea if he had known that Whites had not received jail time.
The plea bargain was a capped plea, meaning that Stroud would plead guilty and lawyers for both sides would try to convince a judge of an appropriate sentence. If the sentence exceeded 30 days, Stroud could have backed out of the plea deal.
“(The plea bargain) has resulted in manifest injustice, particularly where his White co-defendants, some of whom actually engaged in acts presenting a significant danger to others, got to skate by with community service and suspended sentences while Mr. Stroud, a young Black man, will go to jail,” the Stroud filing reads.
Coughlin said that Stroud incited violence during an otherwise peaceful protest and then posted a video of his threats on Facebook to inspire others to riot.
“Anyone who incites violence in this way, regardless of race, will be taken seriously to prevent others from engaging in violence against the police and to restore the community’s faith in the justice system,” Coughlin wrote.
He noted that a judge recently sentenced Manchester native Scott Kimball, 43, to 12 months in jail and three years of probation for pointing a loaded handgun at Black Lives Matter protesters. Coughlin’s office worked out a plea deal in that case as well.
“The skin color of each defendant was different; however, their treatment was based upon the facts of each case and equal under the law,” Coughlin wrote.
Stroud’s lawyers have focused on Hooksett resident Kyle Toledo, 20, who was with Stroud and about a dozen others. According to police reports, Stroud urged Toledo, who is White, to light a firework. Toledo did so and tossed it over the heads of others into a parking lot.
Prosecutors dropped a felony riot charge against Toledo, who pleaded guilty to misdemeanor reckless conduct. He was sentenced to 50 hours of community service, allowed to enroll in Job Corps and ordered to write a letter of apology.
The crowd also spat on a police cruiser, and taunted and threatened the officer.
Lawyer Donna Brown and Michael Eaton gave notice three weeks ago that they now represent Stroud. Their request to withdraw the guilty plea cites ineffective counsel on the part of Stroud’s first lawyer.
Prosecutors normally have 10 days to answer motions that are filed in Superior Court, but they can ask for extensions.