Joshua Shaffer walked out of the Howard County Circuit Courtroom in handcuffs Friday morning.
Minutes earlier, he had been sentenced to serve 18 consecutive weekends, of a potential three-year sentence, in the Howard County Detention Center for a hate crime charge related to vandalism at Glenelg High School that included swastikas and racial epithets.
Shaffer, 19, of Mount Airy, pleaded guilty in December to a hate crime charge related to targeting an individual after prosecutors said he was the student who wrote a racial epithet targeting Glenelg High Principal David Burton, who is black.
Melissa Montgomery, an assistant state’s attorney, said, “Mr. Shaffer, it goes without saying, he wrote the most personal attack … [he] directly attacked Principal Burton … using a despicable word.”
Burton was in the courtroom Friday and addressed Administrative Judge William V. Tucker.
He said he has thought long and hard about the May 23 incident in three phases: the impact on the community, the impact on the school and the impact on him personally.
Burton said he first saw his name spray-painted near the tennis courts.
“The first thing I saw was my name with racial epithets attached to it,” he said. “I didn’t know how to respond. I had to take a moment in my office, I am a spiritual man, and I prayed for a minute to be able to keep my composure.”
In the morning following the incident, Burton said staff members asked for police presence at the school and that many students were “horrified,” and some were visibly upset. Burton said his own family was distraught over the incident as well.
Burton said that Shaffer showed “no level of remorse” when he was questioned at school and he did not offer an apology either. On March 7, Burton received a letter from Shaffer “finally apologizing.”
Montgomery said Shaffer “was by far the least remorseful,” during initial questioning, repeatedly denying involvement before saying, “Yeah it was stupid and I’m an [expletive].”
Prior to the May 23 incident, Burton removed Shaffer from the Senior Class Night event after he learned Shaffer tried to purchase an alcoholic drink.
However, Burton said he gave Shaffer grace because he allowed him to still attend the senior picnic that was scheduled for a few days later.
“Even though I had showed him some remorse … [seeing the graffiti] it was almost like a gut-punch,” Burton said.
Shaffer turned to face Burton from across the courtroom and said, “I just wanted to let you know I am very sorry. You are a great person and I have nothing against you.”
Shaffer also addressed Tucker and apologized to his parents.
To his parents Shaffer, thanked them for supporting him in court, saying, “Mom and Dad I know I have failed you and I am sorry for that.”
Facing Tucker, Shaffer said he has regretted the incident since it occurred.
“If I could go back, I never would have done it,” Shaffer said to Tucker. “Ever since I threw that spray paint can away I have regretted it.”
Tucker sentenced Shaffer to 18 consecutive weekends, or 54 days, after prosecutors recommended a weekend per month over an 18-month period. Tucker said he considers a weekend from 6 p.m. Friday to 6 p.m. Sunday, so three days but a 48-hour period.
Joe Murtha, Shaffer’s attorney, had requested for Tucker to sentence his client to “serve some weekends but not impose a weekend [sentence] of 18 because I think it is greater than necessary.”
Shaffer, who was taken into custody Friday, was also sentenced to 250 hours of community service to be completed one year from March 8, three years of supervised probation to begin March 8, submit to a drug and alcohol evaluation, and abstain from alcohol and prescription drugs.
Shaffer has already completed 164 hours of community service which Tucker honored. Tucker also granted approval of Shaffer completing one day of his 54 days in jail as Shaffer had been incarnated for 10 hours in May.
The three other teens — 19-year-olds Seth Taylor, of Glenwood, and Matthew Lipp, of Woodbine, and 18-year-old Tyler Curtiss, of Brookeville — will appear in court over the next few weeks for sentencing. The latter two filed separate motions in December to dismiss the hate crime charges. That request was denied by a judge.
Montgomery said the four teens “maliciously carried out a plan,” in the most public manner as the discovery of the graffiti was made three hours before an awards ceremony for graduating seniors.
Murtha said he didn’t think the incident was planned.
“If it was planned, it was the worse plan anyone could have made,” he added. “It was on an impulse that was terrible.”
Montgomery said there were over 50 counted symbols, words and sayings written on all corners of school grounds, including the main entrance, sidewalks, near the tennis courts, the stadium press box, bleachers, picnic tables, garbage cans and other locations.
Tucker said the teens “wanted to make a statement and you did.”
Tucker read some of the offensive words and sayings that Shaffer spray-painted on the school grounds, saying, “That is not a prank. That is vile.”
Murtha said, “I can tell you that Mr. Shaffer knows this was not a prank.”
Montgomery said the reputation of Glenelg has been damaged because of the May 23 incident.
“At the end of the day, this is not just vandalism or malicious destruction of property, it is a hate crime,” Montgomery said.