By Taya Graham and Stephen Janis, Special to the AFRO
Standing outside Mitchell courthouse two weeks ago, Kevon Miller shook his head in disbelief. The proceedings, which he had witnessed inside were to him in a sense surreal.
“I could jaywalk, and I’d have to go to jail,” Miller told the AFRO.
Miller had just given a witness impact statement during the sentencing hearing for Baltimore police officer Michael Gentil. In July, Gentil had been convicted of pointing a gun at Miller after he nearly hit him with a car in January. But, the encounter, which included a racial slur and an assault led to some usual courtroom maneuverings, which left Miller stunned.
Gentil was convicted of committing a felony while in possession of a firearm; a crime that comes with a mandatory minimum five-year prison sentence. However, the judge in the case did grant Genil bail and home detention as he appeals the case.
The ruling allowed the 25-year veteran of the Baltimore Police Department (BPD), to avoid jail and get credit for time served under home detention. If the appeal drags out, he could avoid going to prison entirely, a fate Miller said would not have been afforded him.
“I don’t want to see anybody go to jail, it’s the worst,” he said. “But he assaulted me under the cover of that shield.”
“If it was me in his position, I wouldn’t have any of those liberties. I would be in jail right now,” he added.
The case itself is perhaps indicative of the perils of politically popular, but logistically dubious mandatory minimum sentences.
Recently, the Baltimore City Council embraced the idea for offenders who got caught with a gun a second time amid pushback from activists. But, opponents cited just the type of dilemma that confronted the judge during Gentil’s sentencing; lack of leeway when deciding punishment to consider mitigating circumstances. It is a dilemma, which prompted courtroom maneuverings that prosecutor Steve Trostle, deemed highly unorthodox.
“It’s very creative,” Trostle said.
The ordeal began for Miller when he was walking home from work in East Baltimore in January. As he crossed Edison Ave., a car nearly hit him. As he jumped backwards to avoid the vehicle, the iced tea in his hand spilled onto the vehicle as it passed.
The driver jumped out of the car and accused him of throwing the drink purposely. Soon Miller was staring down the barrel of the gun. He says Gentil ordered him to the ground and called him the n-word before kicking him in the back of his head, causing his chin to split open.
“He called me a n-word as he was pointing a gun at me,” Miller said.
After the encounter Miller said he had suspicions that his assailant was a police officer based on how he handled the gun. He promptly walked to the Eastern District and discovered the car belonging to Gentil in the district parking lot. When he tried to file a complaint, Gentil confronted him.
“He said you threw something at my car, what if that was a Molotov cocktail?” Miller recalled Gentil said. “I have to deal with people like you every day.”
The case would have perhaps gone nowhere, save for a chance encounter with an African American officer who happened to drive by when Miller walked out of district headquarters and offered to help, Miller said.
Later, a witness surfaced who confirmed Miller’s version of the events.
In the courtroom, Gentil expressed remorse, telling the judge he wished he could take back the brief encounter that led to his conviction.
However, outside the courtroom he was less contrite. When asked by a reporter if he wanted to comment, Gentil paused for a moment, and said.