MANCHESTER, NH – A Superior Court judge has taken under advisement a Black Nashua teen’s request to withdraw his guilty plea to a misdemeanor riot charge connected to last year’s Black Lives Matter protests because co-defendants sentenced so far, most of whom are White, received no jail time.
Antwan Stroud, 18, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor riot charge that resulted in a sentence of 30 days in jail. Had he known of the sentence outcomes of his co-defendants, he said he never would have agreed to plead guilty.
The irony is Stroud was protesting the racial inequalities in the justice system only to experience that same injustice as a racial minority himself, according to his defense attorney.
Defense attorneys Donna J. Brown and Michael G. Eaton, at a hearing Friday in Hillsborough County Superior Court Northern District, said Stroud should be allowed to withdraw his plea because of the ineffectiveness of his lawyer and because of Brady issues, that is, because the prosecutor did not turn over the evidence of the other defendants’ sentences.
Police arrested more than a dozen people during what they say was a riot last June 2 and 3 when about 100 people gathered on South Willow Street to protest police killings of African Americans.
Originally charged with a felony, Stroud pleaded guilty to misdemeanor riot and was sentenced to 30 days.
One co-defendant, Kyle Toledo, 20, of Hooksett, who is white, lit a firework and threw it over the crowd. Stroud, who filmed the incident, allegedly told Toledo to “light that shit.”
Stroud and Toledo were both charged with felony riot for what defense attorneys say is the same conduct. Stroud told Toledo to light a firework where Toledo actually lit it, placing “another in danger of serious bodily injury.”
For lighting the firework and participating in the protest, Toledo pleaded guilty to reckless conduct, his riot charge was dropped, he received no jail time and he had to do 50 hours of community service, enroll in Job Corps and write a letter of apology.
The defense attorneys in court documents called the case one of “manifest injustice” where White co-defendants got “to skate by with community service and suspended sentences while Mr. Stroud, a young Black man, will go to jail.”
Assistant Hillsborough County Attorney Tom Craig contended Toledo’s and Stroud’s conduct were different. Toledo, he told Judge N. William Delker, threw a firework in an empty parking lot while Stroud made a threat against a police officer, spat on the cruiser and then posted a video on Facebook encouraging that kind of conduct.
Two other defendants, Jameson Brisendine, 24, of Weare and Andrew Magoon, 32, of Manchester, who are both White, also received no jail time. Brisendine pleaded guilty to arson for lighting a dumpster on fire during the protest and received a 12-month suspended sentence and was ordered to undergo counseling treatment or education programs.
Magoon pleaded nolo to a disorderly conduct charge for throwing bottles at officers. He also was armed with a baseball bat. He received a 12-month suspended sentence and was fined $1,488.
Delker pointed out that he did not sentence Brisendine or Magoon. However, he noted in all three cases, each was charged with a felony and pleaded to misdemeanors. “Where is the disparity there?” he asked.
Eaton said none of the people of color were charged with less than riot, which in New Hampshire is a class B felony, while the majority of white people were charged with misdemeanors.
The defense attorneys said prosecutors should have disclosed the negotiated sentences to Stroud’s attorney. The defense attorney, they said, should have looked at the files in the clerk’s office and then sent an email to the prosecutor asking what was happening in the co-defendant’s cases.
Delker asked if he were to rule in favor of the defense – and he qualified that by saying he had made no determination – what is the remedy. He said if Stroud were allowed to withdraw his plea, he could be facing a felony charge again “which has its risks.”
He said why couldn’t the court vacate the sentence and resentence Stroud. Brown said that was a possible outcome as well.