An Ohio man faces one month of jail time for teasing and taunting a 1o-year-old girl with cerebral palsy after a video of the incident went viral.
On Nov. 27, Judge John A. Poulos of the Canton Municipal Court sentenced 43-year-old William Bailey to 29 days in jail.
The taunting occurred on Sept. 26, when Tricia Knight and her mother-in-law were waiting for her children’s bus to return from school. Knight’s three children, including 10-year-old Hope, attend Walker Elementary with Bailey’s 9-year-old son, Joseph.
What happened next was caught on an iPod camera by Knight’s mother-in-law, Marie Prince.
William Bailey “was dragging his leg and patting his arm across his chest to pick his son Joseph up,” said Knight. “I asked him to please stop doing this. ‘My daughter can see you.’ He then told his son to walk like the R-word.”
The Knight family has lived next door to the Baileys for the past two years, and the incident at the bus stop, according to Knight, is the culmination of rising tensions and intimidation against her kids.
In the days that followed the taunting at the bus stop, the Knight family filed a complaint with Canton City prosecutors.
Jennifer Fitzsimmons, the chief assistant city prosecutor for this case, says in the three years she’s been in this role, she’s never seen anything like this.
“I think when we look at cases, there’s case law out there regarding people commenting and gesturing against race and religion. But when there’s nothing out there regarding disabilities, it took me a little bit longer to come to a decision.”
After Fitzsimmons reviewed the Knight family’s complaint, a police report based on a phone call from the Knight family, and the video captured by Prince, she decided to press charges.
“It was settled without Hope having to relive what she saw and how it impacted her,” said Fitzsimmons. “I think the trial could have been just as traumatic as the event itself.”
Bailey, who works as a truck driver, was charged twice. He was originally charged for aggravated menacing, a misdemeanor of the first degree. In this charge, the victim was Knight, an incident she says took place the same day as the bus stop scene.
Bailey, she said, “was swinging a tow chain on his porch, saying he was going to choke me until I stopped twitching. I sent my kids with my mother-in-law to leave with them. My husband called the sheriff.”
In Ohio, a menacing charge is a misdemeanor fourth degree, which carries a maximum of 30 days in jail.
The second original charge, for the bus stop incident, was disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor of the fourth degree. A disorderly conduct is a minor misdemeanor and carries no jail time.
Although Bailey’s sentencing technically reflects the charges brought by his actions toward Knight, Hope’s mother, Fitzsimmons explains how the plea deal enabled the sentence to cover his actions toward Hope.
“Because the menacing misdemeanor charge was directed toward Hope’s mother, and they’re all interrelated, the judge took into account all the actions of Mr. Bailey and the entire Holcomb family,” said Fitzsimmons.
Bailey “entered a plea of ‘no contest’ to a menacing charge and to disorderly conduct,” said Fitzsimmons. His sentence will go into effect on Jan. 2.
Judge Poulos required Bailey to pay $400 in court costs as well as other fees. He was given a credit for one day which is why his sentence is 29 days and not the maximum 30.
Following the Nov. 27 hearing, Bailey’s attorney, John R. Giua, released a statement and apology on Bailey’s behalf, according to the The Repository, an online newspaper for Stark County, Ohio.
“I don’t think this sentence will change things because it hasn’t so far,” said Knight.
Knight says living next door to the Baileys affects their everyday lives.
Just last summer, said Knight, 9-year-old Joseph Bailey came over to play with Knight’s children and brought over a pocket knife, threatening to “cut [Hope] up,” followed by name calling. That harassment continued into the school year.
Since the bus stop incident, Knight has spoken with the bus driver and the school’s principal. Knight now drives Hope to school every day while her other two children ride another bus to school.
Hope was born 29 weeks premature after Knight was involved in a head-on auto collision. When she was born, Hope weighed only two pounds, 12 ounces, which caused several medical problems resulting in two brain surgeries. Knight says her daughter fought for her life the first two years.
As for whether this case presents a new precedent in Ohio is another debate.
“I don’t know if it sets a precedent so much maybe as it begins a conversation between people,” said Fitzsimmons. “I think conversation starts progress, and I think if it can bring something else to light, it would be good.”