Two Grand Island teenagers who pleaded guilty to beating and racially taunting a black man last Halloween were sentenced Friday to probation and community service on the city's East Side.
Erie County Judge Michael Pietruszka followed the wishes of the victim, Tyrone Green, formerly of Grand Island, in imposing his sentence on Joseph L. Rafe, 16, of Monica Lane and Michael Fetzer, 18, of Carter Road, for third-degree assault as a hate crime.
Rafe and Fetzer both were given five years' probation, 150 hours of community service at Mount Olive Baptist Church on East Delavan Avenue and ordered to attend educational and "diversity sensitivity sessions." The teens also were ordered to write Green a "letter of apology" and not to have further contact with him.
The teens did have their request for youthful offender status granted, however, which effectively vacates their convictions for the crime.
Last Oct. 31, Rafe and Fetzer, along with two other teens, one 13 and the other 15, surrounded Green as he was returning home in the Blackmon-West Park section of Grand Island. They taunted him with racial slurs and threats and knocked him to the ground. The other two juveniles were petitioned to Family Court.
Green, who was 36 at the time of the attack, suffered hand, knee and neck injuries.
Assistant District Attorney Glenn Pincus read statements from Green, who was not in court and now lives out of state, asking the judge to spare the teens from jail but to order them to perform "community service in Buffalo, not on Grand Island."
"He stated very clearly to me he did not think they should spend time in jail because he was not seriously injured but he was intentionally injured," Pincus said.
Pincus said Green acknowledged that the incident "was something done maliciously" but told the district attorney's office that "every kid deserved a second chance."
Rafe apologized to Green and to his mother at the sentencing.
"I'd like to apologize to Mr. Green. I do not want to be like that. It was blown out of proportion. If I could take it back, I would," Rafe said.
Rafe's attorney, Michael Stuermer, called the incident an "isolated" case and said his client had no criminal past before last Oct. 31, is "not a racist," and "wants to make something of himself."
Similarly, Robert Viola, attorney for Fetzer, said his client regrets the incident and appreciates the victim's understanding words.
"This is not what the Fetzer family is about; as a matter of fact, it's to the contrary," Viola said. "The young man before you is a good person. He's going to have a burden that's been brought on by his own conduct."
Pincus said no plea bargains were offered to the assault charge, which was upgraded to a felony under the state hate-crime laws passed last year. District Attorney Frank J. Clark said the teens' conviction was Erie County's first under the new hate-crime provisions.
The teens could have received up to 1 1/3 to four years in prison for the crime.