Judge's courtroom comments lead to firestorm of controversy
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- A Jefferson County Circuit Court judge is under fire for comments he made in court. The judge had some harsh words -- not for the suspect -- but for the victims.
It happened during a sentencing hearing back in February when Judge Olu Stevens took offense at statements made by the victims of a home invasion.
WDRB obtained the courtroom video and audio of the Feb. 4 incident.
Gregory Wallace had pleaded guilty to robbery and burglary charges, and was being sentenced by Judge Stevens.
In 2013, Wallace and a friend broke into the Buechel-area home of Thomas and Jordan Gray and their then three-year-old daughter, robbing them at gunpoint.
“If that family was here today, I would be able to tell them how sorry I am and ask for their forgiveness,” said Wallace during the February hearing.
The Grays did not attend the sentencing, but submitted hand-written victim impact statements.
In his statement, Thomas Gray said the incident had traumatized his daughter.
"Since the crime occurred my daughter is terrified of black males," he wrote.
Jordan Gray said, "She is in constant fear of black men. When out running errands, if we come across a black male, she holds me tight and begs me to leave."
Judge Stevens blasted the statement by the Grays, who are white.
“I'm offended by that. I'm deeply offended by that. That they would be victimized by an individual, and then express some kind of fear of all black men. I wonder if the perpetrator had been white, would they be in fear of white men? The answer would probably be ‘no',” said Stevens in court.
Prosecutor Richard Elder seemed taken aback, but placed the blame on Wallace.
“I don't condone what's in that victim impact statement, but clearly this has affected that little girl a lot, in a horrible way. And that's on him (Wallace),” said Elder.
Stevens agreed, but also took aim at the girl's parents.
“She can't help the way that she feels. My exception is more with her parents, and their accepting of that kind of mentality, and that fostering of those kinds of stereotypes,” said Stevens.
Stevens sentenced Wallace to probation, and now says he has no comment.
The incident has blown up on social media, including a Facebook page calling for Stevens firing.
Stevens' personal website, Facebook and Twitter accounts have been suspended.
WDRB spoke to Jordan Gray by phone. She said the family has been through enough and declined further comment.
Late Thursday afternoon, Commonwealth's Attorney Thomas Wine released the following statement.
"KRS 421.520 (1) provides that a victim has a “right to submit a written victim impact statement to the probation officer responsible for preparing the presentence investigation report for inclusion in the report or to the court should such a report be waived by the “defendant.” Pursuant to this statute the Office of the Commonwealth's Attorney is required to notify victims of this right and, in so doing, we provide them with a written form on which they can make the statement. KRS 421.520 (2) adds that “the impact statement may contain, but need not be limited to, a description of the nature and extent of any physical, psychological or financial harm suffered by the victim…”
While we do not tell victims what to write, we would never sanction or endorse any racist or other inappropriate language. I agree with Judge Olu Stevens that we must confront overt racist language and practices. Additionally we would not ignore unintentional racist language or practices. We would disavow in court any victim impact statement that was racist. I do not, however, believe that the language in the Wallace victim impact statement was racist nor was it intended to be racist. The mother of a 3 year old was describing how the home invaders, armed with guns, affected her family. She differentiated how the adults and the child were affected. Our Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney prosecuting the case tried to explain in court why a 3 year old would act as described.
Our office has learned that since the appearance of news stories regarding the sentencing in this case Judge Stevens has received numerous threats and racial insults. We are deeply disturbed by these reports. While every citizen has a right to express their views about elected officials, we strongly believe that disagreements should be made civilly, without threats and without racial animus."
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