Jury finds state Sen. Darius Brown not guilty of misdemeanor charges

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  • Darius J. Brown
    American politician

A jury on Thursday found state Sen. Darius Brown, D-Wilmington, not guilty of misdemeanor offensive touching and disorderly conduct in a two-day trial.

The trial saw a woman accuse Brown of hitting her in the head and throwing a drink glass that shattered in her proximity while they dined at Taverna Rustic Italian Restaurant in Talleyville last May.

While misdemeanors, each charge carried a maximum penalty of 30 days in prison.

Brown did not testify at the trial, has not directly addressed the charges publicly and declined to comment after the verdict. After the verdict was read, Bill Rhodunda, Brown's attorney, said he and his client were "very pleased" by the jury's decision and declined further comment.

During closing arguments before the jury deliberated on Thursday, Rhodunda argued that the woman lied to embarrass his client, whose status as a prominent state politician was not discussed in front of the jury to prevent bias.

"The mere allegation of striking a woman is extremely damaging to one’s reputation," Rhodunda said, characterizing the state's evidence as "woefully inadequate."

Prosecutors argued to the jury that evidence showed that Brown, a former Wilmington city councilman who has been a state senator since 2018, erupted into a jealous rage over a social media post involving the woman.

Sen. Darius Brown, D-Wilmington (front), is flanked by fellow lawmakers at a press conference outside Legislative Hall on Wednesday to announce proposals to change policing and civil rights laws in Delaware.
Sen. Darius Brown, D-Wilmington (front), is flanked by fellow lawmakers at a press conference outside Legislative Hall on Wednesday to announce proposals to change policing and civil rights laws in Delaware.

The woman testified that she and Brown were dining for more than two hours when a social media post soured the conversation. When she declined to speak on the topic more, Brown indicated he would leave, stood up and moved to her side of the booth.

Brown then came to her side of the booth and said something along the lines of "you think it is a game or joke or funny," the woman told the jury.

"From there, he hit me in my head and next thing I know I'm like, 'What just happened?' and a drink is coming for me," she told the jury.

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She said the glass shattered, sending liquid and glass into her hair as Brown left.

Rhodunda, Brown's attorney, suggested the glass was accidentally knocked over and the blow to the woman's head never occurred.

During his cross-examination of the woman, Rhodunda seized on her previous statements to investigators that she was at the far end of the booth from where Brown was standing when the blow occurred. Rhodunda argued it wouldn't be possible for Brown to reach that far.

State Sen. Darius Brown leaves the Leonard L. Williams Justice Center after the first day of Brown's trial Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022.
State Sen. Darius Brown leaves the Leonard L. Williams Justice Center after the first day of Brown's trial Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022.

During her testimony, the woman told the jury she was sitting in the middle of the booth. She said she was left shocked by the interaction but was not physically injured.

The woman's testimony was the only direct evidence of the blow. Video surveillance in the restaurant shows Brown standing up and going to her side of the table, but their interaction is not captured in the frame.

Witnesses in the restaurant testified to hearing the glass shatter, seeing Brown leave the restaurant, seeing the mess near the woman and her being distraught.

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Prosecutors also introduced evidence that showed Brown sent the woman a dozen roses with a card proclaiming his love the next day. The prosecutor argued it showed a guilty conscience.

Rhodunda argued it was part of many gifts Brown had purchased for the woman and meaningless to the criminal charges.

Brown's offensive touching charge was such that prosecutors needed to convince the jury that he touched the woman in a way that was intentional and he knew was likely to cause offense.

As for the disorderly conduct charge, prosecutors needed to show that Brown intentionally caused annoyance or alarm among others by engaging in fighting or "tumultuous" behavior, by making unreasonable noise or by an "offensively coarse utterance or display," Deputy Attorney General Zachary Rosen said.

Through a spokesperson, Attorney General Kathy Jennings, whose office prosecuted the case, said she was disappointed by the result, but thankful to the jury, prosecutors and the victim, whom she said "showed tremendous courage."

She added that cases like these stay "in the shadows" each year, that nobody should be "beneath justice" or "above the law" and they'd make the same decisions regarding whether to prosecute the case if her office had to decide whether to do it again.

While the not-guilty verdict clears Brown of criminal liability, he will still face the potential of legislative ramifications from his conduct.

In a written statement, Senate President Pro Tempore David Sokola, D-Newark, said regardless of whether Brown's conduct was not criminal, "it remains clear" that Brown has been involved in "multiple confrontations in public spaces" over the past year.

And because legislators are held to a higher level of "accountability and conduct," Sokola said the Senate's Rules and Ethics Committee will review allegations against Brown in the coming weeks.

In the General Assembly, Brown has faced multiple punishments for the arrest and a separate incident in November where he allegedly got into a verbal altercation with Rep. Melissa Minor-Brown, a New Castle Democrat, during a criminal justice bill-signing press event with Carney. It's unclear what the altercation was about.

It is unclear whether the ethics inquiry will probe other allegations. Sokola declined further comment.

Contact Xerxes Wilson at (302) 324-2787 or xwilson@delawareonline.com. Follow @Ber_Xerxes on Twitter.

This article originally appeared on Delaware News Journal: Delaware state Sen. Darius Brown found not guilty of criminal charges

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