Steamboat Springs A Steamboat Springs High School freshman was found not guilty of felony assault charges and disorderly conduct in Routt County Court on Thursday. The boy's attorney said the altercation that led to the charges was the result of ongoing, race-related taunts that occurred while the defendant was an eighth-grader at Steamboat Springs Middle School.
Defense attorney Kris Hammond said his client would have faced a mandatory minimum sentence of one year in a juvenile detention facility if convicted on the second-degree assault and crime of violence charges. Instead, the six-member jury returned a verdict of not guilty after deliberating for less than an hour Thursday morning. The trial began Monday.
The District Attorney's Office filed the charges against the teen after a Feb. 15, 2007, incident at the middle school. According to Hammond, another eighth-grader had been tormenting his client, who is black, for more than a month with derogatory remarks and names, including the N word. Hammond said the other student referred to his client as a slave and one day drew a swastika that he showed to the defendant and a Jewish student during class.
Hammond said his client never told school administrators about the incidents. Steamboat Springs Middle School Principal Tim Bishop confirmed that he was never made aware of any of the alleged racist remarks or behavior.
During the school day Feb. 15, Hammond said his client told the other boy to stop making racist remarks. If he didn't, the defendant warned, he would punch him. A short time later, Hammond said, the other student and one of his friends approached the defendant in the school's gym. The friend pushed the defendant, Hammond said, after which the other boy stepped forward and made a "quick movement with his hands."
The defendant reacted by punching the boy in the mouth. The blow broke the boy's jaw.
Charges were filed against the defendant after the incident was brought to the attention of police. Deputy District Attorney Andrew Heyl, who prosecuted the case, did not return a phone call left after hours at the DA's Office. Heyl doesn't have a listed phone number.
Hammond said neither his client nor the victim of his punch were disciplined by the school district. No charges were filed against the boy who is alleged to have provoked the fight. Both boys testified during the trial.
Hammond successfully argued that his client acted in self defense and that the history of interaction between the two boys constituted a threat to the defendant.
The boy's broken jaw led to the second-degree assault charge, a Class 4 felony, Hammond said. Because his client is a juvenile, a conviction on the crime of violence charge would have necessitated the teen being taken out of his home for at least a year.
When the not guilty verdict was read, the defendant's family was "crying - tears of joy, tears of relief," Hammond said.
The defendant's family declined to talk about the case Thursday, but said they would speak with Pilot & Today reporters today.
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