WAKEFIELD — A South Kingstown woman has been found guilty of disorderly conduct but not a hate crime, after throwing racial slurs at a Black family outside the Coast Guard House last summer.
Judge James Caruolo said he does not have the “authority or autonomy” to apply the hate-crime enhancement against Dr. Christine M. Longo — which would have meant a harsher sentencing. In his decision on Tuesday, Caruolo stated that the legislature does not include petty misdemeanors in the state’s sentencing-enhancement statute.
Instead, Longo has been sentenced to six months probation, 50 hours of community service, and a no-trespass order at the Coast Guard House in Narragansett — where she accosted Adote Akpabie of East Providence and his family in June of 2020 while they were looking over the menu.
During his testimony, Akpabie said Longo drew attention to their skin color and used expletives as she was exiting the restaurant. His 18-year-old daughter testified that Longo told them multiple times, “You Black people need to go back to where you came from.”
Longo, 34, has also been ordered to attend anger management counseling and receive diversity training and education.
Although Caruolo did not determine Longo to be guilty of a hate crime, he did admonish her for her comments towards the Akpabie Family.
“Your conduct, your language, was vile and disgusting, quite frankly,” Caruolo said, stating that he didn’t know why she wasn’t facing an assault charge after invading the personal space of Akpabie’s 14-year-old daughter and screaming in her face.
“Had they charged you with that, there’s a very good chance you would be taking a ride to the ACI right now,” he told her.
In a public statement on Tuesday, Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Neronha shared that he was“grateful to the court’s verdict finding the defendant guilty of disorderly conduct,” but stated that he respectfully disagrees with the court’s “narrow reading of Rhode Island law regarding whether the hate crime sentencing enhancement applies to the crime of disorderly conduct.”
The Rhode Island Attorney General’s Office believes the plain language of the sentencing enhancement statute demonstrates otherwise, according to Neronha, and “that the law applies to all crimes – felonies and misdemeanors alike – of any kind.”
“We will continue to take that position on appeal in the Superior Court and, if necessary, seek legislative change,” Neronha said.
The Akpabie Family endured an event no one in Rhode Island should have to face, according to Neronha, regardless of the color of their skin.
“The family, like so many Rhode Island families, was simply seeking to enjoy a meal together,” he said. “The defendant, because she did not like the color of their skin, decided to make sure that didn’t happen.”