A Florida man who pleaded guilty to a hate crime involving a deadly weapon against Black teenagers has received a sentence of probation and 300 hours of community service. As part of his court-mandated requirements, he must verbally apologize for his actions on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 2019 and acknowledge the hurt caused by his derogatory remarks towards the minors.
The 55-year-old white businessman, captured on cellphone video, verbally abused the teenagers with racial slurs while brandishing a gun from his van window. The incident occurred during a gathering of young cyclists protesting affordable housing loss and gun violence, known as the “Wheels Up, Guns Down” demonstration, predominantly attended by young Black males, Miami Times reports.
After reaching a plea deal with Miami-Dade County prosecutors, the defendant, Mark Bartlett, has been sentenced to 10 years of probation. The victims’ attorney, Marwan Porter, commended Bartlett for taking responsibility for his abhorrent behavior while emphasizing the severity of his conduct. The victims, Deante Joseph and Kidanys Cruz appreciated Bartlett’s acknowledgment and hoped for genuine remorse.
In the recorded videos, Bartlett can be seen using racial epithets and aiming his firearm at the minors, even when aware of bystanders capturing the incident. He claimed that his actions were in defense of his girlfriend, who was engaged in a verbal altercation with the group after requesting them to move due to an alleged foot injury.
Originally charged with carrying a concealed firearm, Bartlett ultimately pleaded guilty to five counts, including aggravated assault with prejudice. The plea agreement entails extensive community service, anger management classes, racial sensitivity training with the NAACP, and a 10-year firearm possession ban. Additionally, Bartlett is prohibited from contacting the victims and was required to offer a verbal apology in court, emphasizing the negative impact of his derogatory slurs on the victims, CBS News 10 reports.
During the apology, Bartlett acknowledged his wrongdoing and expressed remorse for the pain caused. Both Joseph and Cruz were present to hear his statement. Joseph, however, expressed dissatisfaction with the outcome, believing that Bartlett should have faced more severe consequences.
Judge Alberto Milian granted Bartlett a withhold of adjudication, sparing him a formal conviction that could have resulted in a prison term of up to 55 years. However, if Bartlett fails to fulfill the terms of the plea agreement, the possibility of over five decades in prison remains.
The case highlights the message that bigotry and racism will not be tolerated. While acknowledging Bartlett’s apology, attorney Porter emphasized the victims’ acceptance and the sincerity of the apology. With the sentencing complete, Bartlett will resume his life with minimal interruptions, although he will require permission from his probation officer for certain travel purposes.