John P. A. Greenwood ’20 struck a plea deal with the county’s top prosecutor on Tuesday and agreed to complete 75 hours of community service in what amounted to a substantial reduction of the charges the prosecutor brought five months ago, when he accused Greenwood of a hate crime.
Greenwood, 20, of Toronto, pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct, a violation. He will have to pay $700 to replace a student’s damaged phone, will be on a one-year conditional discharge and will need to stay away from the victim in the case.
District Attorney Matthew Van Houten said he had consulted with the victim, Solomon Shewit ’19, a black Cornell junior, when deciding to drop the three misdemeanor charges — including the one hate crime charge — against Greenwood. Van Houten said Shewit wanted to focus on his time at Cornell and avoid the “continued stress of this litigation.”
“Based upon extensive discussions with the victim and with the approval of his parents, we agreed to resolve the case in this manner instead of proceeding to trial,” Van Houten said.
The prosecutor said the legal side of the charges is “extremely complex” and that details of the altercation had placed the strength of the criminal case into question.
“The fact that the victim, who is a person of color, pursued the defendant onto the defendant’s property, with the intention of confronting Greenwood about his offensive language, creates a level of doubt whether the victim was selected based upon his race,” Van Houten said. “Additionally, alcohol was a significant factor in this altercation.”
Van Houten said “there is no excuse for such deplorable behavior” at Cornell or anywhere else and acknowledged that members of the community may want to see a harsher sentence for Greenwood.
But Van Houten said people should not allow their emotions “to outweigh an objective analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the evidence” and that “we cannot substitute our own feelings for those of the victim, who fully supports this resolution.”
Sitting in the lobby of a hotel in downtown Ithaca on Tuesday morning, Greenwood’s lawyer, Ronald P. Fischetti, told The Sun that the sophomore “never struck” the victim and that he “never should’ve been charged.”
“It’s very simple,” Fischetti said. “He just didn’t do it.”
“He made some inappropriate remarks — that he did,” Fischetti conceded. “There’s no question about that.”
Greenwood and his parents were also in the hotel and introduced themselves but declined to take part in the interview.
In a statement, Joel M. Malina, vice president for University relations, said Van Houten “has acted in a manner that he feels best serves the local criminal justice system.”
“Cornell’s administrative conduct processes relating to this matter will now move forward, and the university will continue the critical work of enhancing our campus climate, building a campus community grounded in mutual respect and kindness,” Malina said.
Greenwood apologized last semester for using “unacceptable” language after The Sun obtained a video in which he used a slur on the morning of the altercation. He admitted to using the slur as part of the plea deal but has always denied even touching the victim, who received a bloody nose that night and was later evaluated at a local hospital.
The arrest of Greenwood last September made national headlines, mobilized students and led to a series of initiatives from President Martha E. Pollack, who was in part responding to demands from Black Students United, which had organized a protest that drew hundreds of students to Willard Straight Hall.
In November, Van Houten charged Greenwood with three misdemeanors — attempted assault as a hate crime, aggravated harassment and criminal mischief — all of which have now been dropped.
When asked if Greenwood believes someone else is responsible for the victim’s injuries, Fischetti said his client does not know who is responsible. Fischetti also revealed that other students had hired lawyers following the altercation in September, which led to the permanent shuttering of the Psi Upsilon fraternity, of which Greenwood was an underground member.
“Quite frankly, I spoke to the lawyers for the other [students, and] I don’t think they know” who caused Shewit’s injuries, Fischetti said.
Fischetti said he and Van Houten had hashed out the agreement on Monday night. Judge Richard M. Wallace sentenced Greenwood in court on Tuesday morning.
Eric Franz, a lawyer also assisting Greenwood, said in the hotel lobby that body camera footage reviewed by Greenwood’s defense team showed that the police had been misleading in describing the way Greenwood was arrested and identified.
Franz and Fischetti said the footage, which has not been released, shows an Ithaca Police officer point Greenwood out to the victim multiple times and that the victim said he did not recognize Greenwood until he was prodded by another student.
The footage “showed that the identification was completely unreliable because Mr. Shewit was told who to identify,” Franz said. “And it also demonstrated that the police bum-rushed Mr. Greenwood into his own private residence and arrested him, without any warrant, which is also unlawful.”
Fischetti said that the national headlines generated by the hate crime charge had been difficult for Greenwood’s family.
“Jack and his family have been under tremendous emotional stress,” Fischetti said, using Greenwood’s nickname. “I mean, really, really bad.”
“There’s only one victim in this case, and it’s Jack,” Fischetti continued.
Greenwood has been studying business at the European School of Economics in Italy while the case progressed and has not yet decided whether he will attempt to return to Cornell, Fischetti said.
Cornell’s case against Greenwood for violating the Campus Code of Conduct has been on hold while the criminal case progresses.
“There’s no question in my mind if he wants to go back to Cornell, he can,” Fischetti said.