Danny Williams is black. That's important to this story.
Kim Thomas is black, too. Williams is a Maryland Transit Administration bus driver who was operating the No. 27 bus on Dec. 4, when Sarah Kreager and her boyfriend, Troy Ennis, were allegedly beaten by a group of students from Robert Poole Middle School. Six boys and three girls were eventually charged with assault; three boys had their cases delayed and one girl pleaded guilty.
Thomas is the defense attorney for Nikita McDaniels, whom Kreager identified as the student who started the fight with her. McDaniels filed countercharges, alleging that Kreager spat on her after Ennis told her to "spit on one of those niggers."
Both Kreager and Ennis are white; all five students facing adjudicatory hearings at the Juvenile Justice Center are black. When Williams testified Monday at the hearing, he had a feisty exchange with Thomas about the use of what he referred to as "the N-word."
Thomas didn't use the euphemism. She uttered the full word when she asked Williams if he heard Ennis tell Kreager to "spit on one of those niggers." Williams testified that Ennis said no such thing, and then asked Judge David Young to order Thomas to use the term "N-word," not the actual word.
"I find that word offensive," Williams told Young.
"I find it offensive, too, for the record," Young, who is also black, answered.
"I also find it offensive," Thomas added, which may be why Ennis' alleged uttering of the word and Kreager's alleged spitting have been the crux of her defense of McDaniels.
Williams is one of three prosecution witnesses who were on that No. 27 bus on Dec. 4. Kreager was the first to testify. Ennis followed, and at one point Thomas challenged him about his alleged use of the N-word. Ennis denied it, tapping his left forefinger to his left temple in explaining to Thomas why he never would have used it, at least on that bus on that day.
"Common sense, ma'am," he said. "Common sense not to say that on a bus full of African-Americans."
Ennis and Kreager were adamant that no racial slurs were used; Williams was every bit as adamant in agreeing with them.
"I didn't hear any students objecting about the use of the N-word," Williams said. "It would have offended me, too, being a black man."
What Williams did hear, he testified, was a heavyset girl telling someone, "You can't sit down" followed by Ennis' voice saying, "Leave my girlfriend alone." Williams said he shouted back for the student to let Kreager sit down.
"Then it went crazy," Williams testified. Kreager and the heavyset girl were shouting at each other, using the dreaded B-word. There was a second girl involved in the verbal exchange, Williams said. Then "the heavy-set girl struck [Kreager], and then the other student followed."
Then, Williams testified, nearly all the students on the back of the bus descended on Kreager and Ennis, punching, kicking and eventually forcing the couple off the bus. Students near the front surrounded an elderly white man who had boarded the bus when Ennis and Kreager did, Williams said, and the man pleaded for his help in getting off.
Once he got the elderly man off, Williams said, he saw the heavyset girl repeatedly punching Kreager in the face as she lay on the ground while a boy kicked her in the head.
"Get off the woman!" Williams said he shouted at the students. "You're gonna kill her! Get off her!"
Then Williams made a 911 call to ask for police. "These kids have gone crazy," Williams said on the phone. When asked what he meant by "gone crazy," Williams explained, "You don't beat anybody to try to kill 'em."
The five defense attorneys challenged Williams' account, pointing to discrepancies between the testimony he gave Monday and the account he gave to MTA police the day after the incident. (Williams told MTA police that both Ennis and Kreager had seats; in court he said that Kreager couldn't sit down because the heavyset girl was taking up two seats while she filed her nails.)
Under cross-examination, Thomas asked Williams why he never mentioned seeing anyone hitting or kicking Kreager in his statement to police of Dec. 5. Williams answered that there were portions of his statement to police he couldn't remember. Williams also testified that when he picked up the students from Robert Poole, "they acted normal. Nothing loud. No reason to be alarmed. Nothing to be concerned about. Everybody was into their conversations."
What happened, then, to make them "go crazy"? The prosecution rested its case yesterday. Perhaps defense witnesses can tell us.