State still wants Black protester jailed for cop threats; defense wants community service

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A group of protesters marched from Elm Street to South Willow on June 2, 2020, and as more people joined in the event turned from peaceful to what police characterized as a “riot.” Photo/Jeffrey Hastings

MANCHESTER, NH – The prosecutor in the case of a Black Lives Matter protester, who a judge ordered resentenced because a White co-defendant received no jail time yet he, a Black man, received a 30-day sentence, still wants Antwan Stroud, 19, to serve 30 days in jail.

According to the state’s sentencing memorandum, Assistant Hillsborough County Attorney Thomas J. Craig is recommending once again that Stroud, 19, of Nashua, be sentenced to 12 months in the House of Corrections, with all but 30 days suspended for two years and two years of probation. 

Stroud is slated to be resentenced on Friday in Hillsborough County Superior Court Northern District.

The defense is asking the judge to give Stroud a six-month suspended sentence and order him to do 50 hours of community service, the same sentence given a co-defendant who is White.  Defense attorney Donna J. Brown said Stroud wants to complete the community service in the area of racial justice, and peacefully advocate for change, and has been in contact with the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC).  The AFSC, a more than 100-year-old Quaker-founded organization working to “build a society that is more equitable, more inclusive and safer for everyone” has agreed to provide a community service opportunity for Stroud.  

Included in the defense’s sentencing recommendation is a letter Stroud penned to Judge N. William Delker, the sentencing judge.  In it, Stroud, who has no criminal record, said the thought of going to jail has changed him.  He said although his experiences with racism led him to be there that night, “I let my emotions get the better of me and I know that what I did was wrong.  I am usually a very calm and shy person, but my anger at the racism I have seen and experienced came out that night.  It is not an excuse for my behavior, but I have experienced racism throughout my life.”

Antwan Stroud/Photo via Facebook

Stroud said in school kids would call him “blackie” or “porch monkey.”  He said he has been stopped by police for no reason.  One time, he said, a police officer stopped him as he was walking home and “assumed I was the Black person he was looking for.  He told me I had jumped someone, searched me in the street, and questioned me.  It has been hard being a Black person in New Hampshire.”

He said the whole experience has taught him there are better ways to protest.  He said he should not have used the language he did that night, and should not have behaved like he did or suggested any violence.  “What I did that night is not how I usually act and this whole experience has given me the ability to make sure it never happens again.”

The incident took place on June 2, 2020, on South Willow Street where about 100 Black Lives Matter protesters had gathered.  Stroud and about 10 others surrounded Officer Mark Aquino’s police cruiser.  Stroud spat on the patrol car, made several threatening statements to the officer, recorded the incident and posted the video to his Facebook page, according to the prosecutor.

In arguing for a 30-day jail sentence, prosecutor Craig noted three of the threatening statements: “I will slap one of you niggas,” “Roll your window up pussy,” and “Run this bitch ass nigga out this shit.”

The last statement, Craig said, was said to about 10 people surrounding Aquino’s cruiser.  “It is worth noting that this occurred during a protest against the police.  The situation rose to the level that Officer Aquino had to call for back up,” Craig wrote.

The defense, in arguing for a lesser sentence, pointed to the outcome of the case against a co-defendant, Kyle Toledo, 21, of Hooksett, who received no jail time.  Both originally were charged with misdemeanor reckless conduct and felony riot.   Toledo pled guilty to reckless conduct for throwing a firework in “a clear area of a parking lot at the same protest,” according to Craig.

Toledo was part of the group that surrounded Aquino’s cruiser but Craig said his conduct was not violent or tumultuous.  Toledo is not seen threatening, spitting or giving the middle finger, as others in the video are. “He is simply walking and standing.”

In the original plea agreement, Stroud pled guilty to one count of misdemeanor riot and received a 12-month jail sentence, with all but 30 days suspended, the same sentence Craig proposes.

The defense is asking the judge to give Stroud the same sentence Toledo received:  a six-month suspended sentence and 50 hours of community service. Toledo also had to write a letter of apology to police but the defense is not proposing that for Stroud.

At the time the defense filed its motion asking the court to allow Stroud to withdraw his plea or be resentenced, the defense said no other protester received jail time.  “The other sentenced protesters—all White—will not see a jail cell.  Mr. Stroud will.  The difference?  Mr. Stroud is Black.”

In vacating the sentence, Delker said the affidavits in support of the arrest warrants were the same for both Stroud and Toledo.   

He said the New Hampshire Supreme Court long ago recognized that “disparity of sentencing…strikes at the fundamental basis of our penal system.  A convicted criminal should generally receive the same punishment as another with like background who has committed the same crime.  This is not a matter for executive clemency but justice to be rendered by the courts.”

He said the disparate outcome of the Toledo and Stroud cases not only undermines the deterrent message, “but it casts grave doubt onto the criminal justice system’s ability to rehabilitate the defendant.  How could any defendant have confidence in the fairness of the criminal justice system when he knows that he will go to jail while his similarly-situated co-defendant, who was standing right next to him during the entire criminal episode, will do no time behind bars simply because the prosecutor decided to treat one man more harshly that the other?” Delker wrote.

About this Author

Pat Grossmith

Pat Grossmith is a freelance reporter.