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Rough Justice

The video of what happened on the No. 5 RTA bus in Beachwood on September 18th starts with...  well, you take a look:


The police were called to the scene, came out, interviewed people, and filed a report.  Artis Hughes, the bus driver, told them that Shi'dea Lane, the passenger, had grabbed his throat and spit in his face, which is what prompted him to punch her.  Three witnesses, one a friend of Lane, indicated she was intoxicated, and basically corroborated Hughes' version of events.  And while the video doesn't confirm that version, it is consistent with it; you see Lane starting to approach Hughes, what happens between them is obscured by the guy in the yellow jacket, but whatever did happen, it was enough to enrage Hughes.  

Nobody was arrested; in fact, the police dropped Shi'dea off at the restaurant where she works.  Actually, there was thought that Lane might be prosecuted, but a week later, Hughes came in to the station and signed a
form saying he didn't want to press charges.  And that was the end of the matter.

Or would have been.  The most amazing thing about Andy Warhol's "15 minutes of fame" prophecy is that Al Gore hadn't gotten around to inventing the Internet when he made it.  Ten years ago, nobody would have heard of this.  Instead, someone could take a video of it on their cellphone, and somebody could upload that to YouTube.

It took three weeks for the video to hit, but no time at all for it to have an impact.  While the level of the competence of the people who run the Regional Transit Authority can be disputed by reasonable people, even they could figure out that videos of their bus drivers punching women wasn't what they wanted as a centerpiece in their next campaign to increase ridership.  They immediately suspended Hughes, and shortly thereafter fired him, characterizing his conduct as "absolutely unacceptable."

Of course, the matter couldn't end there, because there was still Justice to be done.  And so where once there was no criminal case, now there were two:  Hughes was charged with assault, and Lane with disorderly conduct.

So many criminal cases take on political overtones anymore, and this one was no different.  The obvious tie-in was violence against women, but there was a counter to that, a sense by some of a society gone out of control, that at least there was one man willing to stand up to the barbarians at the gate, a sense of vigilante justice vindicated.  Hughes' response to the accusation that he'd hit a woman -- "you act like a man, I'm going to treat you like a man" -- resonated in some quarters.  YouTube, like most social media, allows users to voice their approval or disapproval of what's posted, and concerns over misogyny in our society were hardly quelled by the "likes" of Hughes' going Mike Tyson on Lane outpolling the "dislikes" by a 3-1 margin.

The cases landed on the docket of Shaker Heights Judge K.J. Montgomery, one of the most respected municipal judges in the county.  First up was Hughes, and whatever moral argument he might have mustered, he didn't have a legal one.  He pled no contest, Montgomery found him guilty, and off he went for his probation report.

Lane was up next.  She had a slightly better argument, of the "she's been punished enough" variety.  It might have worked if she'd gone to the hospital instead of to work after the incident.  A friend of mine, a woman lawyer, called me the morning of Lane's plea.  She was outraged, and I patiently explained that Lane had no legal defense to the charge of disorderly conduct, and indeed bore some responsibility for the incident. 

Still... There was something to my friend's complaint.  Maybe Justice demanded that Lane be prosecuted for her part in the affray, but as you learned more about her, her actions on the bus moved from irksome to pathetic.  Lane was shot four times and stabbed during a robbery seven years ago, and in her Facebook page she relates that this "prolly messed me up from tryin to model."  No doubt.  It did serve as the basis for Hughes' cruel taunt, "look like somebody done sliced your face up" just before she moves toward him in the video.  But she pled no contest, too, and received the same verdict.

Hughes was also the first to be sentenced, on July 16, and received a 180-day jail sentence, with all but three days suspended, a $1,000 fine, and an instruction to attend anger-management classes.  Two weeks later, Lane appeared for sentencing, and Montgomery imposed a thirty-day jail sentence, again with all but three suspended.  Presumably, Hughes and Lane won't serve their three days in jail at the same time.

But they will each serve three days in jail.  I could see some sense in prosecuting them both, but I see little in imposing essentially the same punishment.  I think you could make a pretty good argument that the message Justice sent with that one was, "the bitch deserved it."

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