Civil rights unit probes black man’s sentence

/ Source: The Associated Press

The state attorney general’s civil rights unit is investigating a 30-year sentence given to a black man convicted of writing bad checks who had no prior convictions.

Carl O. Snowden, the attorney general’s director for civil rights, said Wednesday he is investigating the sentencing of Andrew M. Fisher in response to a complaint filed by the Baltimore County branch of the NAACP.

Fisher, 24, was convicted in August of two counts of writing $23,500 in bad checks for an electronic security system for the apartment he shared with his mother.

Baltimore County Circuit Judge Patrick Cavanaugh sentenced Fisher to two consecutive 15-year prison terms and ordered him to repay A-1 Security Systems, in a case first reported in The (Baltimore) Examiner.

Pat Ferguson, president of the local NAACP chapter, called the sentence “blatant discrimination.” She also compared the situation to that of the "Jena 6" case in Louisiana in which six black teens were arrested after an attack on a white student. Critics accused officials of prosecuting blacks more harshly than whites.

An assistant said it is the judge’s policy not to comment on his cases.

Cavanaugh, who is white, offered to release Fisher if he paid $23,000 in restitution, according to a motion filed by Fisher’s attorney Alvin Alston. Alston asked the judge to correct the “illegal sentence” against Fisher, saying that Maryland’s highest court has held that “imprisonment for a lack of financial resources is illegal.”

Nancy Fish, the owner of A-1 Security Systems, said she did not object to the sentence.

“Murderers don’t get that,” Fish said. “But the judge saw the type of personality that this guy was. It’s not like he was sick or on drugs. He knew exactly what he was doing.”

Fisher does have an arrest record, including several assault charges, but no convictions.