Jul. 30—The judge who ordered Antwan Stroud jailed in January ordered a different sentence on Friday, one that included no incarceration for the young Black man who participated in Manchester unrest last year in connection with the Black Lives Matter cause.
The turnaround followed legal challenges that occurred after the New Hampshire Union Leader reported that Stroud, now 19, received a 30-day jail sentence, while Whites who participated in similar activities during the South Willow Street unrest in June 2020 received no jail time.
"The whole thing's been scary for him," said Donna Brown, one of two lawyers who took his case after the disclosure. She spoke on his behalf after a sentencing hearing in Hillsborough County Superior Court.
"I got three texts this morning, 'Am I going to jail?' This really was impactful. This was a very big deal for him," Brown said.
Seven months ago, Superior Court Judge Will Delker admonished Stroud from the bench when he sentenced him to 30 days in jail. The judge told him that Americans hold the right to protest sacred, but his actions spilled over to crime and threatened those rights.
On Friday, Delker repeated those thoughts and said that in an isolated case, he would still sentence Stroud to 30 days in jail, as he did in January.
But the focus of the case has changed fundamentally since then, Delker said.
"The issue before me today is treating people who are accomplices and acted in tandem with one another, both who have unblemished criminal records, they should be treated the same," Delker said.
Equal protection under the law is also a constitutional right, he said. Delker went on to say race was not a factor in the case, despite statements from both sides.
Delker said police and prosecutors charged Stroud and Hooksett resident Kyle Toledo as co-defendants and wrote up charging documents that mirrored one another.
But Assistant Hillsborough County Attorney Thomas Craig agreed to plea bargains with different sentences.
"It's the state from the outset of this case that painted you and Mr. Toledo as partners in crime and the state allowed Mr. Toledo to plead guilty to a no-time sentence," Delker said. He said he can't allow the prosecutor to recast the narrative now.
Craig — part of the family dynasty that includes a former police chief, prominent Democratic Party politicians and Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig — did not comment after the hearing.
During the hearing, Craig downplayed the behavior of Toledo, who lit a firework and threw it over the heads of people and into a parking lot near an occupied car. And he played up Stroud's behavior, noting Stroud encouraged a crowd to hurt a police officer, swore at him, spit on his unmarked cruiser and posted a videotape of the confrontation to Facebook.
"Protest is an American right, but this was violence, this was inciting violence against a police officer," Craig said.
In a victim impact statement, Manchester police Officer Mark Aquino said he wasn't afraid, but he was concerned the unrest would get out of hand.
The 19-year veteran of the police force said he has had previous encounters with Stroud, and given Stroud's lack of respect for authority and the South Willow Street actions, he expects that Stroud will have future contacts with the police.
Stroud would not answer a question about Aquino, to whom he must write a letter of apology as part of his sentence. But he said that when he sees videos like the one showing the death of George Floyd in police custody, he thinks about how it might have been him.
"I just thought that could have been me. I've had cops in Manchester pull their guns on me multiple times for no reason," he said.
Stroud lives in Berlin and is completing his high school equivalency.
Delker also sentenced Stroud to 50 hours of community service with American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker organization where he will work on justice-related issues.
The sentences of Toledo and Stroud are not exactly similar. Toledo is not on probation. Stroud has about 1 1/2 years to go on probation and faces a suspended sentence if he gets into trouble.
Delker said he would have to unwind the entire plea bargain were he to throw out the probation and suspended sentence, meaning Stroud could face the possibility of a trial on felony charges.
Stroud previously had pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor riot charge.