PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — A retired Rhode Island doctor who shouted racial epithets at a neighbor during a property boundary dispute did not violate the state’s hate crime law, a judge ruled on Tuesday.
The judge said that while Dr. Richard Gordon’s actions were “nothing less than repulsive,” prosecutors did not prove the defendant was motivated by race.
Judge Stephen Isherwood sentenced Gordon, 71, to 18 months of probation and 40 hours of community service, and also ordered him to undergo a mental health evaluation and racial sensitivity counseling.
Gordon, a white man from Barrington, was convicted last week of simple assault and disorderly conduct, both misdemeanors, in connection with the Aug. 3 altercation with Bahram Pahlavi, who is of Iranian heritage.
Rhode Island does not have a free-standing hate crime law. A defendant must first be convicted of a criminal offense, and if it is found that the state’s hate crime statute was violated, it could lead to a more severe sentence. Had the judge determined a hate crime occurred, Gordon faced up to a year in jail.
Attorney General Peter Neronha called Gordon’s words “reprehensible” and said he was disappointed with the judge’s decision.
“Criminal misconduct that is motivated in any way by bigotry merits the strongest possible response,” he said in a statement.
The attorney general’s office was supported by impact statements from the Anti-Defamation League, the NAACP and Black Lives Matter.
During the confrontation, Gordon exited his house and assaulted Pahlavi after Pahlavi replaced a surveyor’s stake in Gordon’s front yard, prosecutors said.
The altercation was caught on video and prompted Black Lives Matter protests in town.
Gordon maintains Pahlavi struck him with a hammer first, causing a forearm injury that required stitches, his lawyers said.
“The judge correctly applied the law here,” Gordon’s attorney, Robert Flanders Jr. said in a telephone interview Tuesday. “What the judge found is that this was really a property dispute. Mr. Pahlavi wrongly claimed he owned part of Dr. Gordon’s property.”
Gordon is considering an appeal, Flanders said.