Black Judge Slams Victims In Court and On Facebook for Toddler’s Fear of ‘Black Men’

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Jordan and Tommy Gray’s 3-year-old daughter was watching SpongeBob Squarepants when two armed men broke into their home near Buechel on March 21, 2013, and robbed them at gunpoint.

Two years later, when one of the offenders was about to be sentenced, Jordan wrote in a victim impact statement that her daughter was still “in constant fear of black men.” Both robbers were African-American.

“Whenever we are running errands, if we come across a black male, she holds me tight and begs me to leave,” the mother said. “It has affected her friendships at school and our relationships with African-American friends.”

Tommy Gray also wrote that since the crime, his daughter had been terrified of black males and that probation was not sufficient punishment for Gregory Wallace, 27, who had pleaded guilty to robbery.

“If holding a little girl at gunpoint gets you probation, then our system is flawed,” Gray said.

But when Wallace was brought up for sentencing Feb. 4 in Jefferson Circuit Court, it was the parents, not Wallace, who suffered Judge Olu Stevens’ wrath.

“I am offended. … I am deeply offended that they would be victimized by an individual and express some kind of fear of all black men,” he said.

“This little girl certainly has been victimized, and she can’t help the way she feels,” he said. “My exception is more with her parents and their accepting that kind of mentality and fostering those type of stereotypes.”

The Grays were not in court as Stevens denounced their statements and granted probation to Wallace, whom he said deserved the opportunity to redeem himself.

But they did see when Stevens condemned their statements again, in a post on Facebook.

“Do three year olds form such generalized, stereotyped and racist opinions of others?” he wrote. “I think not. Perhaps the mother had attributed her own views to her child as a manner of sanitizing them.”

Stevens, who was appointed to the bench in 2009 and re-elected last year without opposition, did not mention the Grays or Wallace by name on Facebook. He noted in court and in his post that “the statement played absolutely no role in the sentencing decision.”

And in an interview, he said he did nothing improper in court or on social media. “I was cautioning the parents against allowing racial stereotypes to impact their behavior and that of their child,” he said.

But leading experts on judicial ethics condemned his remarks, as did Commonwealth’s Attorney Tom Wine and friends and family of the Grays, some of whom have started a Facebook page urging Stevens’ removal from office.

“Judge Stevens blamed and shamed the victims,” said the girl’s paternal grandmother, Dawn Renee Bryant, who said her daughter-in-law cried when she read the judge’s post. “It is very disturbing to be called something you are not.”

Wine said his office would disavow any racist victim impact statement but the statements made by the victims in this case “were not intended to be and were not.”

“The mother of a 3-year-old was describing how the home invaders, armed with guns, affected her family,” Wine said. “She differentiated how the adults and the child were affected.”

He also said that “had the assailants been old fat men with white beards, I believe the child would have the same reaction to similarly described persons.”

In an email, Ronald Rotunda, a law professor at Chapman University in Orange, Calif., and the author of a widely used course book on legal ethics, said Stevens violated the Code of Judicial Conduct, both by using the prestige of his office to further his personal interests and by commenting on a pending case on Facebook.

“The judge, acting like a pop psychologist, decides to attack the little girl and her parents,” Rotunda said. “Then, after the judge … has a chance to cool down … he goes on Facebook and does it all over again. The judge should be a little more judicious.”

Jeffrey Shaman, who teaches at Chicago’s DePaul University law school and once ran the Center for Judicial Conduct Organizations, said judicial criticism of victim impact statements could discourage victims from “participating in the criminal justice system and ensuring that their voices will be heard.”

Indiana University law professor Charles Geyh said that while it is not intrinsically wrong for a judge to criticize a victim — such as the instigator of a bar fight — given Stevens’ emotional reaction in court and on Facebook, he arguably should have disqualified himself because his impartiality might be questioned.

“While the judge insisted that his judgment was unaffected by the victim statement, the issue is whether a reasonable observer would think likewise. Maybe not,” Geyh said.

Still, Geyh said matters of race can be complex.

“An observer disconnected from issues of race and racial politics might regard the victim statement as innocuous,” he said. “For an observer sensitive to race, however, the implication that black defendants should be held accountable for traumatizing their victims because they are black … is troubling.”

In an interview, Stevens, who says in his Twitter profile that he prides himself on showing “respect for all those who come before the court,” denied that he demeaned Wallace’s victims.

“I wasn’t criticizing the victims, I was criticizing a statement that I thought was a generalization against an entire race of people,” he said.

Stevens, a former Louisville Bar Association president, said his Facebook post was “very well-received by many people” and that he took it down after about a week because “a small group of individuals began promoting their agenda on my page.” The Courier-Journal obtained a copy this month.

The Kentucky Judicial Ethics Committee has said judges may post on Facebook and other social media sites but noted that they are “fraught with peril for judges,” who must “avoid the appearance of impropriety” and thus accept restrictions that “might be viewed as burdensome by the ordinary citizen.”

Wallace and his accomplice, Marquis McAfee, both 27, were arrested about three weeks after the robbery. Both pleaded guilty and McAfee, who was on probation for a prior crime, was sentenced to 10 years in prison, which he is serving.

Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Richard Elder objected to probation for Wallace, who pleaded guilty to a 20-year sentence, saying he was “guilty as hell” and “put a gun in that little girl’s father’s face.”

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SOURCE: The (Louisville, Ky.) Courier-Journal – Andrew Wolfson

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