BARRINGTON — Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Neronha’s office announced Tuesday that a man charged with assaulting his neighbor while using a racial epithet will be subject to additional sentencing under Rhode Island’s Hate Crime Sentencing Act if convicted.
The incident was captured on video and posted to Facebook, where it gained widespread attention, including from Black Lives Matter Rhode Island, which hosted a rally in Barrington on Tuesday afternoon.
The Barrington Police Department investigated the incident, which occurred on Aug. 3, and later charged Richard Gordon with simple assault and disorderly conduct, according to a statement from Neronha’s office.
On Friday, Barrington police requested that the attorney general’s office assist with the investigation.
Members of the attorney general’s office and the Barrington Police Department interviewed the victim, Bahram Pahlavi, and his wife on Sunday, according to Neronha’s office.
On Tuesday, Neronha issued a “notice of sentencing enhancement” under the Rhode Island Hate Crimes Sentencing Act, meaning that if Gordon is convicted of his charges, he will be subject to additional sentencing.
According to Neronha’s office, Gordon allegedly selected Pahlavi as his victim because of his “hatred or animus toward the actual or perceived religion, color, race, national origin or ancestry of Bahram Pahlavi.”
In Rhode Island, a person cannot be charged with a hate crime, but under state law, if a crime is found to be “motivated by bigotry and bias, including but not limited to threatened, attempted or completed acts that appear after investigation to have been motivated by racial, religious, ethnic, sexual orientation, gender or disability prejudice,” then the defendant can be sentenced to serve additional time.
Because Gordon’s charges are misdemeanors, if he is convicted and if the court determines that his actions were motivated by bias, he would be subject to a minimum of 30 days mandatory imprisonment or no more than one year in prison, according to the state’s Hate Crimes Sentencing Act.
On Tuesday afternoon, about 10 people gathered in front of Gordon’s home on Rumstick Drive. Some said the attorney general should have acted sooner.
“When something like this happens, by default America’s knee remains on our neck,” said Mark Fisher, an organizer with Black Lives Matter Rhode Island, referencing the killing of George Floyd, who died after a white police officer pressed his knee into his neck for nearly eight minutes. “ … In an obvious case such as this where racist slurs are being spewed and a crime is committed in the process, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what’s happening…. A hate crime should be called a hate crime.”
Pahlavi’s wife, Iman Pahlavi, did not respond to a request for comment. But family friend Katherine Quinn said that the Pahlavis, who are Middle Eastern, have experienced racism since moving to the neighborhood three years ago.
“There’s apparently a Mason-Dixon line in this area. When they wanted to move beneath Chachapacassett,” she said, referring to a road north of Rumstick Drive, “it was too much. The neighborhood couldn’t handle it.”
Knocks on the door of Gordon’s house went unanswered Tuesday evening.
According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program, there were 13 hate crimes reported in Rhode Island in 2018, the last year for which data were available. Six of the reported incidents were motivated by bias against someone’s race, ethnicity or ancestry; three were motivated by religious bias and four motivated by bias against a person’s sexual orientation.
Five of the incidents were reported by Providence police. The others were reported by state police or departments in Coventry, Cumberland, Johnston, Newport, North Kingstown, Pawtucket and South Kingstown.
The Barrington case remains pending in District Court, Providence, according to the attorney general’s office.
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