GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A Kent County judge ruled Monday that a white woman who used racial slurs is not guilty of ethnic intimidation, a decision that stunned the black man at whom she aimed a vitriolic rant while she struck him.
Shelly Lynn Hueckel, 47, of Nashville in Barry County, was convicted of misdemeanor assault.
On April 24, Hueckel brought a vehicle in Betten Baker GMC in Lowell to have its trade-in value appraised. She was not happy with the dollar figure that employee Terrance Smith gave her and started arguing.
“And then she said, ‘Take your scamming black ass back inside and go get my title,’” Smith, who is African American, testified.
She followed him into the office of the car lot.
“I turned around and handed her her title and as soon as she got the title in her hand, she backhanded me,” Smith said. “I was in shock and then she proceeded to call me a f—— n—– repeatedly, and all I did was put my hands up like this to block her from hitting me.”
Smith’s co-worker Tim McCormick saw it happen.
“The N-word was used and it’s something I don’t hear in a conversation anywhere that I’ve dealt with in. I’m 62 years old I haven’t heard that in 20 years, anyways,” McCormick said.
Assistant Kent County Prosecutor Angela Curtis said the case was irrefutable.
“The evidence is clear. In fact, the defendant doesn’t even deny that those words were used, the N-word was used,” Curtis said.
The defense wanted to work out a plea agreement but the prosecution didn’t offer one.
“Does she have the right to strike him? No, she doesn’t and she shouldn’t have called those names, but that does not rise to the level of ethnic intimidation,” defense attorney Norman Miller argued.
Kent County Circuit Court Judge Paul Sullivan, a 31-year veteran of the bench in his last year as a judge, said that while he agrees the language was racist and intimidating, he could not find Hueckel guilty of ethnic intimidation because her reaction was due to the appraisal and not because of Smith’s race.
“Miss Hueckel, you ought to be ashamed of yourself. No excuse for this,” Sullivan said.
He said it was a close call but the prosecution did not overcome the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
“Again, we have to look at this not as to how the victim construed it, but how the defendant meant it,” Sullivan said.
A shocked Smith was speechless immediately after the verdict was read.
“How do you do this to a human being and just walk away?” he wondered later. “I did nothing wrong. I didn’t even put my hands on her, I just put my hands up to block myself. She assaulted me. I don’t have any other words. How do you do this to a human being and just walk away?”
The defendant rushed out of the courthouse and the defense attorney did not want to talk.
Cle Jackson, the president of the Greater Grand Rapids NAACP, told News 8 he was disturbed by the case’s outcome.
“It’s irresponsible for Judge Sullivan to have allowed this young lady to walk out of this courtroom without being charged with ethnic intimidation,” Jackson said.
Jackson said if the tables were turned and it was a black man assaulting and using comparable language against a white woman, there would be immediate and severe — and possibly even deadly consequences — for the attacker.
Jackson said Hueckel’s decision to use racist language was intentional and intended to have an impact based on the race of the person she was attacking.
“In our estimation, it reeks of supremacy, white supremacy,” Jackson said.
He said that the victim could turn to civil court for justice here.
Hueckel will be back in court in February to be sentenced for the assault charge, which is punishable by up to 93 days in jail.
Ethnic intimidation is a two-year felony.