CHICAGO (STMW) — A black plaintiff who threw a courtroom chair at a white Joliet cop after he lost a civil rights trial was on Thursday sentenced to five years in prison for “assault with a dangerous weapon.”
Lavelle Watts Jr. had waited nearly three years to get revenge against Officer Joshua Sawyer, who he claimed had assaulted him in a racist attack.
But when a jury rejected his allegations on Valentine’s Day last year, Watts tried to take justice into his own hands by throwing a courtroom chair at the cop.
Convicted of the assault at a trial in March, the 34-year-old was on Thursday sentenced to the five year prison term by U.S. District Judge John Tharp — a far cry from the $100,000 payout he had hoped for when he sued Sawyer.
Even so, the sentence was half the 10-year sentence prosecutor Timothy Storino had asked for.
Defense attorney Molly Armour had suggested a two-year sentence, arguing that Storino’s demands would “perpetuate a sense of unfairness” and “undermine the rule of law.”
But Tharp told a downcast Watts, who has been in custody since the attack, that he had “two options.”
“You can stew about how unfairly you’ve been treated by Officer Sawyer, by the system and by this court… the second choice is to make the best of the situation.”
Watts threw the chair at the end of a four-day civil trial, during which he had alleged that Sawyer twisted his arm and slammed him into a door frame while responding to a domestic disturbance at Watts’s girlfriend’s home in March 2009.
Watts alleged that Sawyer then asked him, “Do you think that it’s going to be easier now that we’ve got a black president? It’s going to get worse!”
But the jury — which included two African Americans — deliberated for just one hour before finding in favor of Sawyer.
Moments after the jury ruled, an enraged Watts grabbed a chair and flung it at Sawyer, witnesses said.
Watts yelled, “I told you I was gonna get you, you racist pig!” and scuffled with Sawyer and jumped on a bench before he was arrested by deputy U.S. marshals as a fuming Judge Susan E. Cox looked on, Joliet City attorney Greg Smith said last year.
According to a federal complaint, Watts later confessed to deputies, saying, “I chucked the chair at that man,” “I cracked his ass,” “I socked his ass,” and “Then I told him — now we’re even.”
Sawyer suffered an injury to his left arm and still feels “numb” in two fingers, Storino said Thursday.
Tharp ordered Watts to get his GED while he’s in prison, so that he can provide for his four children when he gets out.
(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2014. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)