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Four Months After Viral Video, U.S. Army Sergeant Convicted of Assault for Shoving Black Man in Neighborhood Confrontation


A judge convicted a U.S. Army sergeant of assault for shoving a Black man in a heated April confrontation in South Carolina, according to multiple reports. As seen on a viral video, 42-year-old Jonathan Pentland shoved 22-year-old Deandre Williams in a residential community in Richland County. The footage, posted by a bystander on Twitter, quickly racked up tens of thousands of retweets and 2.6 million views after being first published in April.

“I went for a walk yesterday evening and I encountered a young man (Deandre)in distress,” the bystander tweeted. “I decided to record the incident in order to protect this black man from possibly becoming a statistic.”

Pentland testified he was just protecting his family, and the defense said the incident followed Williams’s confrontations with local women. Authorities dismissed that, saying Pentland was being a bully. Williams’ father reportedly took the stand to say that his son previously suffered cognitive damage from cancer.

The incident happened in the Summit neighborhood near the city of Columbia on April 12. The then-ongoing trial of Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin, who would be convicted a little more than a week later for a murder also captured on viral video, gave the confrontation cultural resonance. Its release sparked protests, as Pentland is white and Williams is Black, though neither the prosecutors nor defense reportedly treated race as an element during trial.

Pentland neighbor Kimberly Hernandez testified that in the days before the incident, Williams had disturbing interactions with her family, according to Stars and Stripes. She said he approached one of her daughters, who was walking the dog.

“I don’t care if he walks in the area,” she said. “I didn’t want him stopping my daughter anytime he was outside.”

In another incident, Williams picked up the baby of her daughter-in-law without permission, she testified. Williams followed the daughter-in-law after she argued with him, Hernandez testified.

“He was angry by the time he approached me,” she said. “He was already erratic and jumping back and forth. He was telling me he did nothing wrong.” Williams unintentionally spit in her face, she said.

“I would think he would start to walk away, but immediately he would come back and come back to me,” she said.

Neighbor Renee Wilson called 911. Hernandez went to Pentland’s home, ringing the bell and banging on the door, witnesses reportedly said.

“You’re in the wrong neighborhood, motherfucker,” Pentland told Williams on video. “Get out.”

He repeatedly told Williams to leave, threatened to throw him out, and claimed he was “harassing” the entire neighborhood.

The situation escalated after a woman off-screen–soon identified as Pentland’s wife–called Williams the aggressor. Williams approached her while pleading innocence. Pentland shoved him forcefully.

“You better walk away,” he said. “You walk away. You’re talking to my wife right now.”

Pentland acknowledged in his testimony that he swatted Williams’ phone out of the man’s hand after the events in the video. He and his wife took the stand to say he was acting in self-defense on behalf of the family, though the sergeant acknowledged the video looked bad.

“There was no question in my mind he was going to be back,” Pentland said of Williams.

Judge Diedra Hightower nonetheless convicted him of third-degree assault, a misdemeanor. Richland County Sheriff’s Department First Sgt. Shawn McDaniels testified that Pentland was the aggressor and that Williams tried to deescalate.

“The threat was him talking to his wife,” he reportedly said. “The threat was not him walking toward his wife. In observing this video, I noticed there were several attempts for Mr. Williams to deescalate.”

Assistant Solicitor Paul Walton argued that Pentland shoved Williams over pride, not self-defense.

“His pride is hurt,” the prosecutor said. “He’s a drill sergeant, and he’s used to people doing what he says.”

Prosecutors also brought Williams’ father to the stand. He testified his son suffered potential brain damage from lymphoma, resulting in swelling of the lymph system and brain. Now Williams has trouble with tasks as simple as buying groceries and needs help.

“He doesn’t quite understand things as we would,” Williams’s father Demetrius said in emotional testimony, according to The Post and Courier.

At the end of the day, authorities saw Pentland as the person starting a fight.

“I saw the conversation was one-sided,” McDaniels testified, according to the outlet. “It’s clear this was more so a bullying situation that resulted in assault.”

Williams welcomed the verdict.

“I’m just thankful that we were able to get things done,” he reportedly told the court. “Not in any way do I feel things should be this way. As a young man, if I go on a walk, I shouldn’t feel any form of pressure. I don’t think anybody wants to see these types of things to go down.”

Pentland received a sentence of either 30 days in prison or a fine of $1,087. Attorney Ben Stitely said his client would go with the fine, but he signaled that they plan to appeal. He maintains Pentland is innocent.

“We are of course disappointed with the judge’s decision and are looking into further pursuing legal remedies to challenge the decision,” he wrote in a statement to Law&Crime. “As quoted in several of the local media outlets, Mr. Pentland stands by his right to defend his family and home from a genuine threat and is deeply hurt by the situation. We are disturbed by the lack of investigation into the background factors regarding Mr. Williams’ actions leading up to the small portion of the encounter captured in the viral video. Additionally, as repeatedly stated at trial less than 3-4 feet behind Mr. Pentland off camera were Mrs. Pentland, their daughter, and neighbor (the one who actually called 911 earlier). And it was the step towards them with hand raised as seen on video that precipitated Mr. Pentland defending them by pushing Mr. Williams back.”

McDaniels testified that the prior incidents were closed cases and irrelevant to Pentland shoving Williams, according to Stars and Stripes.

The Army previously suspended Pentland for the incident.

“Fort Jackson Commander Brig. Gen. Patrick R. Michaelis is reviewing his options in the matter of Sgt. 1st Class Jonathan Pentland,” Fort Jackson said in a new statement to WIS. “We will provide more information when a decision about how to proceed is made.”

[Screenshot via @ShadaeMccallum]

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