This story was originally published at 1:20 p.m. Tuesday and updated with statements from Cornell University at 5:17 p.m.
ITHACA, N.Y. — Cornell student John Greenwood pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct Tuesday. He was initially charged with a hate crime for using a racial slur during a fight in Collegetown in September.
Greenwood, 20, of Toronto, pleaded guilty Tuesday to the violation of disorderly conduct before Judge Richard Wallace. As part of the plea, he admitted to using abusive or obscene language, specifically the “N word.” He was originally charged with the misdemeanors of third-degree attempted assault as a hate crime, second-degree aggravated harassment and fourth-degree criminal mischief.
According to court records, Greenwood was charged with a hate crime previously because he “selected the victim in whole or substantial part because of a belief or perception regarding the victim’s race, color, national origin and/or ancestry.”
In a statement, District Attorney Matthew Van Houten said though he believed there was a good faith basis to charge Greenwood with a hate crime, the resolution “is fair to the victim and the community. No one contests that the defendant, John Greenwood, used racial slurs and acted reprehensibly on September 15th, 2017. Those facts, alone, do not equate to proof beyond a reasonable doubt that a hate crime was committed, however. The fact that the victim, who is a person of color, pursued the defendant onto the defendant’s property, with the intention of confronting Greenwood about his offensive language, creates a level of doubt whether the victim was selected based upon his race. Additionally, alcohol was a significant factor in this altercation.”
The Ithaca Voice previously reported that a black Cornell student, the complainant in this case, was returning home early on the morning of Sept. 15 on the 300 block of Eddy Street when he found an altercation happening and attempted to break it up. As four or five men white men left the property, they repeatedly shouted racial slurs and expletives at him, records stated. The student followed the men to their home next door to confront them and he said he was attacked. He was later taken to Cayuga Medical Center for his injuries.
Van Houten said ultimately his responsibility is to advocate for the victim and respect his wishes regarding prosecution in this case.
“The victim is a young man who simply wants to focus on his education at Cornell and to avoid the continued stress of this litigation,” Van Houten said in a statement. “…I certainly understand that there are members of this community who believe John Greenwood should be punished severely for his conduct, and I respect that point of view. There is no excuse for such deplorable behavior at Cornell University, in Tompkins County, or anywhere for that matter. We cannot allow our emotional reaction to outweigh an objective analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the evidence and we cannot substitute our own feelings for those of the victim, who fully supports this resolution.”
As part of the plea, Greenwood will have to perform 75 hours of community service and pay restitution as part of a conditional discharge. A full stay-away order of protection was also issued for the victim.
Greenwood was represented by New York City attorneys Ronald Fischetti and Eric Franz and Ithaca attorney John Stevens.
The incident involving Greenwood incited anger at Cornell University and prompted student protest. In the fall, Cornell created a 36-member Presidential Task Force on Campus Climate with the aim to make the university more inclusive after racially charged incidents, including Greenwood’s.
A Cornell spokesperson said Greenwood remains on a leave of absence.
In a statement, Joel Malina, vice president for university relations said, “The Tompkins County District Attorney has acted in a manner that he feels best serves the local criminal justice system. Cornell’s administrative conduct processes relating to this matter will now move forward, and the university will continue the critical work of enhancing our campus climate, building a campus community grounded in mutual respect and kindness.”
Featured image: Ithaca attorney John Stevens and New York City- based attorney Ronald Fischetti leave the Ithaca City Court in November with Cornell student John Greenwood. (File photo.)