NARRAGANSETT, R.I. (WPRI) — The judge who oversaw the trial of a South Kingstown woman found her guilty of disorderly conduct, but declined to enhance her sentence using the state’s hate crime law.
Christine Longo, 34, has been standing trial for allegedly berating Adote Akpabie and his family at the Coast Guard House in Narragansett last summer.
“Look at this [expletive] Black guy,” Longo reportedly shouted at Akpabie as he walked into the restaurant to reserve a table. “Go back where you came from.”
She then allegedly began shouting at the East Providence man’s wife and two daughters, who were standing outside looking at the menu.
While Associate Judge James Caruolo found Longo guilty of disorderly conduct, he chose not to enhance her sentence using the state’s rarely used hate crime law. If he had determined her offense was a hate crime, she would’ve faced a stricter sentence.
State law requires prosecutors to prove a defendant “intentionally selected the person against whom the offense is committed” because of their “hatred or animus toward the actual or perceived disability, religion, color, race, national origin or ancestry, sexual orientation, or gender of that person.”
Chad Bank, Longo’s attorney, urged Caruolo to dismiss the case last week. Bank argued that, while Longo’s words could be considered offensive, they do not meet the state’s definition of a hate crime.
Ultimately, Caruolo opted not to dismiss the case, but said Tuesday the hate crime enhancement law does not apply to misdemeanor charges like disorderly conduct.
While he chose not to enhance her sentence, Caruolo did chastise Longo for her remarks.
“Your conduct, your language, was vile and disgusting, quite frankly,” he said. “I don’t know why the state didn’t charge with with an assault charge. Had they charged you with that, there’s a very good chance you would be taking a ride to the ACI right now.”
Longo was sentenced to six months of probation and 50 hours of community service. She was also ordered to take part in anger management counseling and have no contact with the Akpabie family or the Coast Guard House.
Since the hate crime enhancement law was not applied, Longo will not face jail time.
The case was the second time this year a judge has ruled against applying the state’s hate crime sentencing enhancement. In February, Barrington resident Richard Gordon was found guilty of assaulting his neighbor last summer, but the judge overseeing the case decided not to enhance his sentence because it was unclear whether he was motivated purely by hate.
Attorney General Peter Neronha, who requested the hate crime enhancement be applied in both cases, expressed frustration with Caruolo’s “narrow reading” of the law.
Neronha said in his view, the law should apply “to all crimes, felonies and misdemeanors alike.”
“We will continue to take that position on appeal in the Superior Court and, if necessary, seek legislative change,” Neronha added.
“It is a privilege to fight on behalf of Rhode Islanders who are subject to this kind of hateful conduct,” he continued. “We will continue to do so, on behalf of individual victims and on behalf of all the people of Rhode Island, because when one Rhode Islander is targeted because of the color of their skin, it affects us all.”