A local civil rights organization on Wednesday decried the plea deal struck by prosecutors and a white woman accused of assaulting a Hispanic woman and her teen daughter, saying 15 months probation was too lenient for what the group described as a hate crime.
At issue is a Feb. 15, 2020, incident where a mother and daughter were attacked in East Boston while speaking Spanish and allegedly told, “This is America” and “Go back to your [expletive] country.” On Friday, prosecutors announced a plea deal in which one of the two white women charged in the attack will serve 15 months probation. The other woman charged continues to fight in court.
“The court met racism and bigotry with leniency and tolerance,” Lawyers for Civil Rights, an organization supporting the victims, said in a statement Wednesday.
The criticism of the sentence comes at a time when hate crimes are up in Massachusetts.
Surveillance video of the unprovoked attack in Maverick Square drew national attention and triggered a demand by community activists for more awareness of hate crime issues by local law enforcement.
The Suffolk district attorney at the time, Rachael Rollins, denounced the attack shortly after it occurred, saying, “Hate and intolerance do not belong in Suffolk County.”
Lawyers for Civil Rights released the video before arrests were made and called a press conference where the mother, identified only as Ms. Vasquez, tearfully described getting punched, shoved, and bitten while her attackers screamed at her.
Mother and daughter, then 46 and 15, had been chatting in Spanish while walking home from a birthday dinner for the mother.
The video footage shows a woman, who appears to be shouting, rush toward Vasquez from across the street and punch her. Vasquez punches back, and the fight turns into a melee with several people involved. Boston police arrive and are speaking with both groups when the video ends.
Prosecutors charged Jenny Leigh Ennamorati and Stephanie Armstrong, both 25 at the time, for the attack after an investigation by the Boston Police Department’s Civil Rights Unit.
Each woman was charged with four misdemeanors: two civil rights violations with injuries and two counts of assault and battery. In addition, prosecutors charged Ennamorati with one felony count of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon.
Prosecutors announced their deal with Ennamorati in East Boston Municipal Court Friday. Prosecutors initially had asked for two years probation and 50 hours of community service fulfilled by volunteering with the immigrant community affected by the hate crime. Judge John E. McDonald Jr. instead ordered 15 months probation and a substance abuse evaluation.
If Ennamorati avoids trouble for the next 15 months, the case against her will be dismissed.
“As both district attorney and as a Black man, I have seen and experienced the impacts of hate and racism,” current Suffolk District Attorney Kevin Hayden said in a statement Wednesday. “The violent actions and hateful behavior this individual admitted to have no place in our society. My office has been in close contact with the victims in this case and will continue to provide support to them and to the East Boston community.”
Mother and daughter victims testified Friday to feeling unsafe in their community and afraid to speak their native language. The attack forever altered their lives, they said.
“The hateful tone behind the words that I heard constantly replay in my mind,” the mother’s impact statement said.
The mother said she had become nervous, overprotective, and filled with shame because she failed to protect her daughter.
The daughter said the attack had left her with feelings of depression, isolation, and distrust of others.
“Because of this attack, I am reserved, shy, and scared of making new friends. I am afraid that they will be able to hear my accent and bully me,” the daughter’s impact statement said.
Ennamorati’s lawyer, Paul Anthony, did not respond to requests for comment.
Silvana Gómez, a paralegal with LCR who attended the sentencing hearing, said the outcome of the case left her chilled.
“As an East Boston resident with a Spanish-speaking mother, I was heartbroken by the court’s sentencing,” she said. “To be in the room when the court failed to denounce this level of violence and hatred made me fear for the security of my community. We all deserve to feel safe where we call home.”
“The court’s failure to impose meaningful community service underscores how far the judicial system still has to go in appropriately handling hate crimes at a time when racial tensions are at an all time high. Many victims of hate crimes never receive justice at all,” said Myraida Melendez, an attorney at LCR who is providing legal support to the victims.
By contrast, LCR applauded the federal jury in the hate crime killing of Ahmaud Arbery for returning a guilty verdict that would subject the three killers to life in prison.
The outcome of the national case “highlights the harmful disparities in hate crime enforcement locally,” LCR said.
Hate crimes in Massachusetts rose slightly to 385 in 2020 compared with 376 in 2019, as legislation to update the state’s hate crimes statute and strengthen its penalties remains bottled up in the Judiciary Committee.
Prejudice against race, ethnicity, or national origin was the most widely reported bias motivation (66.4 percent of incidents), followed by bias against religious groups (15.7 percent). Sexual orientation bias was third at 14.3 percent.
Intimidation accounts for 30.6 percent of the hate crimes reported to the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security. Simple assault accounts for 19 percent of incidents, and 11.4 percent of hate crimes were categorized as aggravated assault.
Armstrong, who did not take a plea deal, is next scheduled to be in court on April 28. Her lawyer, William Barabino, said she intends to take the case to trial.
Tonya Alanez can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @talanez.