Teen pleads guilty to beating transgender woman at Rosedale McDonald's

A teenager pleaded guilty Thursday in the beating of a transgender woman at a Rosedale McDonald's, an incident that was caught on video and drew national attention after it went viral online.

Teonna Monae Brown, 19, pleaded guilty in Baltimore County Circuit Court to one count of first-degree assault and one hate crime count in the April attack on Chrissy Lee Polis, 22, which became a rallying point for transgender-rights advocates across the state and nationwide.

Prosecutors will seek a prison sentence for Brown of 10 years with five years suspended, said Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott Shellenberger. The combined maximum sentence for the crimes is 35 years.

A 14-year-old girl who was charged as a juvenile in the same attack admitted her responsibility to identical counts July 1 in juvenile court and was committed to a juvenile facility, Shellenberger said.

Judge John Turnbull II, who accepted Brown's plea Thursday and will sentence Brown on Sept. 13, watched two videotapes of the attack: the one taken by a McDonald's employee that was online and the surveillance footage from McDonald's.

"Asking for five years is a good sentence where the person has no prior convictions, and we are very pleased that this case has now been resolved," Shellenberger said. He said it was important to Polis that Brown admit guilt.

The video that was recorded by a McDonald's employee on his cellphone and posted online captured part of attack. It showed Polis being kicked and struck in the head, then dragged by her hair across the floor. She then suffered an apparent seizure as onlookers laughed.

The attack brought attention nationwide to the plight of transgender people, with thousands signing online petitions and holding rallies. Soon after, Gov. Martin O'Malley said he would work with lawmakers on legislation to provide more protections for transgender people; such a measure failed during this year's legislative session.

Mark Scurti, one of Polis' lawyers, said such an attack on a transgender individual was unacceptable. Polis is expected to say more at the sentencing but could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Brown's lawyer, Timothy Knepp, said his client "would be a very good candidate for probation." He called the assault a "once-in-a-lifetime" incident that "will forever shape her future."

"I'm going to ask the court to allow Teonna to go home with her mother. She has been locked up, imprisoned, since the day of the incident. She has a great deal of remorse," he said.

Vicky Thoms, 55, a bystander who said she intervened in what she feared would be a fatal beating and was struck, also attended the plea hearing Thursday.

Physically, she said, she recovered from being hit in the face by the younger assailant. But she said she remains shaken. Emotionally, she relives a frightening scene and remains stunned by what she considers a violent display of hate, she said.

"In all my life I've never seen anything like this, and I never expected to. You see that kind of stuff on TV shows, but not in real life. In fact, I've never seen anything that bad even on TV shows, but maybe in horror movies," Thoms said.

Prosecutors said the attack was sparked by Polis's sexual identity.

Polis, who was born male and has identified herself as female since childhood, went into the McDonald's restaurant at 6315 Kenwood Ave. around 7:50 p.m. April 18.

Assistant State's Attorney Rachel Cogen provided details of the beating in court. Brown and the 14-year-old were eating at McDonald's and saw Polis go to the women's bathroom. They complained to workers that a man was using the women's bathroom, she said.

They argued with Polis at the bathroom door, Cogen said, but soon they soon began punching and kicking Polis and dragged her by the hair. At one point, the pair left, but returned and resumed the attack, prosecutors said.

When Thoms intervened, Brown argued with her and the younger teen hit Thoms in the face, according to Cogen. Polis suffered a seizure, and her assailants left after McDonald's employees told them to go because police were on their way, prosecutors said.

Court records show an allegation that Brown was involved in a confrontation with a woman in July 2010 at the same McDonald's. Charges in that case were dropped when the victim said she no longer wanted to pursue the case.