Three men pleaded guilty Friday morning to spray-painting racial slurs and other obscenities on cars and a house in the Fry's Spring neighborhood. The trio says these were not hate crimes, and the acts were meant as a prank.
In Charlottesville General District Court, 20-year-old Yoni Ortiz, 19-year-old Saul Urrea, and 19-year-old Marvin Bush each pleaded guilty to two counts of destruction of property for a string of racial vandalism back in June.
Charlottesville Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Joe Platania says the three men who spray-painted words including "KKK" and "white power" on property in the Fry's Spring neighborhood were acting out of immaturity – not out of hatred.
"They were 19- and 20-year-olds that were making stupid decisions and acting immaturely. They said there was absolutely no racial animus or hatred. It was more an act of immaturity than it was an act of hatred. That put us at ease a little bit based on what it appeared to be," he stated.
An investigation of another act of vandalism linked the men to this case.
Platania said, "A Charlottesville police officer at about 2 a.m. on June 4 saw a white Chevrolet pickup truck stop, an individual lean out the window and break a window of a parked vehicle right in front of him. So he stopped that vehicle, detained everyone and questioned them."
Ortiz and Urrea were arrested and charged for involvement in shattering the car window. Bush was in the truck at the time, but released after he was questioned. Within 48 hours, Bush then turned himself and his two friends into Charlottesville police for the racial vandalisms.
"They also, I think, exhibited genuine remorse and understanding because they did inject race and ethnicity into their crimes by spray-painting that. It matters not what their intention was, the community didn't know that," said Platania.
Authorities did reach out to the victims for their input on how the cases should be resolved.
"They were concerned with there being a consequence and a documented criminal conviction," Platania said. "They were concerned with restitution, but they felt that community service – and quite a bit of it – was more important than lengthy jail sentences. And in fact, they all supported suspended jail sentences for the three. And I think that speaks to sort of the community that we live in in Charlottesville."
Bush received a six-month suspended jail sentence on each charge. Ortiz and Urrea received 12-month suspended sentences on each charge. All the men will have to perform at least 100 hours of community service and pay restitution to the victims.
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