A British court has reversed a ruling that left a Black teenager locked up and sentenced to 18 months in a youth offenders’ facility after he stabbed two other men.
After an appeal, officials recognized the boy was being provoked by the “victims,” who hurled racial and homophobic insults at him.
Lord Justice Dingemans from the Court of Appeal in London reviewed the case of Ibrahim Sarjo, 18, who pleaded guilty to two counts of wounding without intent and possession of a knife after stabbing Anthony Sweeney and Raymond Watkins while hanging out with two females friends, one summer night.
On Friday, June 17, Sarjo and his crew were in Liverpool City Centre around 7:30 p.m. when he encountered Sweeney and Watkins. When the two saw Sarjo, without provocation, they called him the N-word and other slurs, the Liverpool Echo reports.
Reports say the young man tried to ignore the men and walk away with his female friends, but both Sweeney and Watkins chased him to the Queen Square bus station and instigated a fight. They did not know Sarjo was armed. During the confrontation, he pulled out his blade and defended himself.
When the case was brought to court on Oct. 14, Sarjo accepted responsibility for his actions, admitting to the crime. He was sentenced to a year and a half at the young offenders’ institution at Liverpool Crown Court.
Over the past three months, the teen’s legal team, led by Julian Nutter, submitted the case for appeal, claiming the teen was a victim of vicious racial taunting and bullying, and it now has achieved a radical reversal.
Dingemans wrote in a judgment, “As [Sarjo] walked past Anthony Sweeney and Raymond Watkins, who had been visiting Liverpool and drinking, Mr. Sweeney racially abused [Sarjo], saying: ‘Girls like white boys better than Black’ and called [Sarjo] the N-word. This was properly described by the prosecution before the judge as ‘ugly, shameful, and highly provocative.'”
Two young women with Sarjo testified during the original trial to this.
The court also considered Sarjo’s initial response to the bullying, attempting to leave and ignore him— but Sweeney was relentless. He followed the Black young man and called him a “fa—t.”
“Go away, you’re a grown man,” Sarjo said to Sweeney, testimony revealed. Still, the white man would not back down.
The incident was caught on CCTV and cellphone video and showed the other man, Watkins, initially trying to stop Sweeny from teasing the teen but then joining in with the bullying.
“There was further racial abuse of [Sarjo]. The [teen] was chased into the road, and Mr. Sweeney kicked out at him and there was a physical confrontation which followed.” Dingemans continued to say. “During this, [Sarjo] produced a knife and stabbed both complainants before running off.”
The judge further noted that after the stabbing, Watkins continued to yell “I’ll get you, [N-word],” even as he fell to the ground.
He also stated Sweeney continued his pursuit of Sarjo and shouted to him, “If I catch you, you Black b–ch, I’m going to kill you,” and an injured Watkins got up and joined the chase. However, the teen was never caught.
Sweeney was stabbed in the chest by the teen and was later taken to the hospital, where they closed up the wound with staples. He stayed in the hospital for a week before being discharged.
Watkins sustained multiple puncture wounds, which were also treated with staples. He left the hospital after 10 days.
Eventually, Sarjo was identified and arrested by the Merseyside Police on Tuesday, July 26, and charged with assault and possession of an offensive weapon.
The men told authorities they were out in the city for the day and had “been drinking but were not drunk” when they encountered Sarjo.
The knife used in the incident was never recovered.
The teen was asked why he had the knife in the first place. His attorney for both the original case and the appeal said he had taken it from a relative of an ex-girlfriend and was going to give it to the police. According to the Crown Prosecution Service, his story was true.
Multiple factors played out in Sarjo’s favor. He had never been convicted of a crime. He had a job. Authorities said he was “from a good family,” and the Probation Service said in a pre-sentencing report he was a “low risk” to the public.
However, these things did not stop Judge Judith Bond from sentencing him in October, saying, “You were only 18 when this happened, and I bear in mind your young age. You were the victim of racial taunting — it was an offense that was provoked.”
“There is no suggestion you would not comply with any order the court makes, and it has to be said there is a real prospect of rehabilitation and strong personal mitigation,” she said.
Still, despite all of the positive things on his side, “it is unavoidable that a sentence of imprisonment must be imposed. You had a knife with you that day and ultimately you used that knife on two people and a custodial sentence is the appropriate sentence.”
With this sentence, the teen was ordered to spend 18 months in custody.
The Court of Appeal looked at the incident and took exception to Bond’s interpretation of the law and dispensation of justice.
“In our judgment, in the exceptional circumstances of this case, the judge was wrong to find that appropriate punishment could only be met by immediate detention,” Dingemans wrote in his remarks.
This does not mean Sarjo gets away scot-free.
He is now ordered to complete 30 rehabilitation activity days and two years of probation. The judge said that because he had already served two months incarcerated, he should not be required to do unpaid work or other non-custodial punishments.
This was the recommended sentence in the original pre-sentence report.