A 22-year-old Baltimore man who donned a gas mask during the April 2015 riot and punctured a fire hose as firefighters worked to extinguish a burning pharmacy was spared prison time by a federal judge Thursday.
U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz sentenced Gregory Lee Butler Jr. to three years of supervised release and ordered him to serve 250 hours of community service. The government had sought 33 months in prison.
Robert Maloney, Baltimore's director of emergency management, spoke on Butler's behalf at the sentencing hearing. He declined to comment after the hearing.
A deputy fire chief whom the government had listed as a potential witness was also called by the defense.
"I think Greg got a second chance to show the city of Baltimore that he's really sorry for what he did on that day, ... and we are extremely grateful that so many people in the Baltimore City Fire Department and the judge and a lot of people have decided that Greg is a young man who deserves a second chance," said Liz Oyer, a federal public defender who represented Butler.
"He's going to do everything he can to make amends for the mistake that he made."
Motz also ordered Butler to pay $1 million in restitution related to damage caused to the CVS Pharmacy that burned down at Pennsylvania and North avenues, which firefighters were trying to extinguish at the time the hose was cut.
Earlier this year Butler, pleaded guilty to the federal crime of obstructing firefighters during a civil disorder. A charge of aiding and abetting an arson was dismissed.
Federal prosecutors said in court papers that Butler's "conduct consciously or recklessly created a risk of death or serious bodily harm to others." They said Butler, who had been riding around on a bicycle with a gas mask in front of a line of police officers, first stood on the hose, then used a serrated knife to twice puncture it.
"In essence, he wanted the CVS Pharmacy to continue to burn," they wrote.
A report from the Fire Department at the time said that "all units on the fire ground were placed in danger by the destruction of the supply line."
Rick Hoffman, president of the Baltimore firefighters union, was not involved in Butler's sentencing but said he thought it was good for Butler to get a second chance.
The riot was "an absolutely horrible time for everybody, in uniform and out," Hoffman said. "Now moving forward, if everyone's decided that the best way to handle this is to try to make something positive out of this kid, I'm all for it."
Butler, who spent five weeks in federal detention before sentencing, is the first person charged in federal court related to the riot who did not receive additional prison time. Others convicted faced between four and 15 years in prison for their roles.
Before the riot, Butler was a standout basketball star at Polytechnic Institute. His coach told The Baltimore Sun in 2014 that Butler couldn't secure an NCAA scholarship because of a city policy that had been causing students to earn fewer points toward their weighted grade-point average for honors and Advanced Placement classes than their peers in other school districts.
Butler had taken on more difficult honors classes but didn't get the GPA boost he would have gotten in other school districts, and felt graduating from the city system put him at a disadvantage. Butler said at the time that he was working to pay off classes at community college.