fb-pixel Skip to main content

PROVIDENCE — A retired Barrington oral surgeon who was recorded yelling racial slurs in a dispute with his Muslim neighbors last August used “repulsive” language, but was not committing a hate crime, a District Court judge decided Tuesday.

Dr. Richard Gordon was found guilty of disorderly conduct and assault on Feb. 3. On Tuesday, he was ordered to serve a year’s probation for assault, another six months probation for disorderly conduct, and to undergo a mental health evaluation, sensitivity training, and have no contact with his neighbors.

However, Judge Steven Isherwood rejected an argument by state prosecutors that Gordon should also receive a 30-day sentence enhancement under Rhode Island’s Hate Crime Enhancement Act.

Advertisement



This was the first time in more than five years that the attorney general’s office tried to prosecute a case using the act.

During the trial and at sentencing Tuesday, the prosecutors tried to show that Gordon’s neighbors, Bahram Pahlavi and his wife, Dr. Iman Ali, had endured racially motivated incidents instigated by Gordon since they moved to the exclusive Rumstick Point neighborhood.

Ali testified that their vehicles’ tires were flattened with nails and slashed in the driveway, and their mechanic advised them to install cameras to catch the culprit. She said that it stopped happening after she told Gordon’s wife, Patricia, about the cameras. She testified about a rosa rugosa bush that blocked Gordons’ view being poisoned, and warnings from a local worker, who is Hispanic, that Gordon had threatened to have him deported.

On Aug. 3, 2020, after Pahlavi replaced a surveyor’s marker on Gordon’s lawn, Gordon came outside and launched into tirade filled with obscenities and racial slurs. On the phone with police, Gordon falsely clamed Pahlavi had attacked him.

In videos recorded by Ali, posted on Facebook, and played during the Feb. 3 hearing, Ali could be heard trying to interrupt Gordon while he was on the phone with police, asking if Gordon thought Pahlavi would get shot by the police because he’s a person of color.

Advertisement



“It wasn’t that long after George Floyd’s killing,” Ali testified Tuesday. “He thought my husband was an ‘n-word.’ I thought he was putting my husband in danger.”

Ali’s testimony was heartfelt, Isherwood said, but it did not offer direct evidence showing that Gordon was motivated by hatred or animus for their religion or race, as required in the state hate crimes enhancement law.

The judge admitted that he’d never had a case quite like this one during his 10 years on the bench. He said it was “nothing short of eye-opening,” and he condemned Gordon’s behavior. But he was bound by the law.

“Dr. Gordon’s actions are nothing less than repulsive,” Isherwood said. “I can’t imagine being the recipient of such negative behavior, but based upon the law as I see it today, I can’t make that connection” with the hate crime enhancement act.

Gordon’s lawyer, former Rhode Island Supreme Court Justice Robert Flanders, had argued for leniency in sentencing. He told the judge to consider Gordon’s standing in the community and that he had already suffered after Ali posted the videos on Facebook.

Gordon said in a statement that he was forced to resign from organizations he belonged to and lost his staff privileges at Rhode Island Hospital. Gordon said he and his wife are looking to move out of state.

Advertisement



Gordon also said that he regretted his actions and apologized directly to Pahlavi, gesturing to him in the courtroom: “I can only hope you forgive me for what I said and how my words made you feel.”

It was the first time he’d apologized, the couple said later. “It was long overdue,” Ali said.

They disagreed with the judge’s findings on the hate crime sentencing. This wasn’t about the surveyor’s mark, they said. Gordon was shouting about Pahlavi’s race.

When they moved into the neighborhood with their teenage twins in 2017, they hadn’t known what other locals later told them — that Gordon was known for disputes with his neighbors and could be litigious.

Since the incident, they’ve felt uneasy living in their home, just across a narrow road from the Gordons. Their teenagers stay in the back yard. They keep their distance.

However, they have been comforted by the many Rhode Islanders who responded with outrage over the incident and compassion for their family.

“Rhode Islanders have told us they won’t stand for this. Prominent Democrats, prominent Republicans, people of all backgrounds have reacted to this,” Ali said.

They were also grateful to the Barrington police for taking care with the investigation. They have seen enough across the country to know what could have happened.

“If he hadn’t recorded the video, I don’t know what would have happened,” Ali said. “And that’s really frightening.”

Advertisement







Amanda Milkovits can be reached at amanda.milkovits@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMilkovits.