URBANA — A Champaign man was sentenced Wednesday to 18 months in prison on hate-crime charges related to an outburst at an Asian restaurant earlier this year.
Champaign County Judge Roger Webber handed down the sentence to Charles K. Bell, 43, who has no permanent address, for his April 3 violent actions directed at staff and diners at Golden Wok, 405 E. University Ave., C.
Assistant Public Defender Katty Sievers recommended Bell be sentenced to probation for the hate-crime charges he pleaded guilty to Sept. 1, arguing the attack was triggered by severe drug and alcohol intoxication, not racism.
“That shouldn’t have happened,” Bell said to the judge, at times crying. “It shouldn’t have happened at all, and I’m so sorry for that.”
Assistant State’s Attorney En-Chi Lin requested Bell receive the maximum penalty of six years and asked the judge to consider what kind of a message the court would send if a “racist rampage” didn’t result in prison time.
‘He still has scars’
Lin called three witnesses to the stand, including a woman who recalled being in the restaurant with her friend and her friend’s 2-year-old son when Bell started yelling and attacking staff.
The woman said Bell threw a tip jar, hit someone with a metal chair, punched the restaurant’s owner multiple times and broke a ceramic sculpture, a piece of which cut the face of the 2-year-old.
When a staff member pointed out to Bell that the boy was bleeding, the woman said Bell stuck up two middle fingers and used a racial slur.
The woman said she and her friend are unable to eat in restaurants anymore and the 2-year-old cries whenever he is left alone because his mother was using the restroom when the outburst began.
The boy was treated at a hospital but did not need an X-ray or stitches.
“He still has scars,” the woman said. “Our life kind of changed after that.”
Lin also called to the stand two Champaign police officers who responded to the April incident.
Officer Kevin Burch reviewed photographs he took of the inside the restaurant that showed chairs and drops of blood strewn across the floor.
Officer Daniel Weegens recalled Bell repeating racial slurs throughout the process of being arrested and treated in a hospital for a wound that he sustained on his hand.
Champaign police said the incident began after Bell dropped a meal he had picked up from Golden Wok. He demanded another for free, which the restaurant supplied. Police said he left with the remade food, but returned about 40 minutes later complaining it was not good and asking for another meal.
Arguing for probation, Sievers noted that Bell has struggled with substance-abuse issues and mental disorders.
Sievers said voluntary intoxication is no excuse, but Bell has responded positively to treatment since being arrested and the attack was not premeditated.
Sievers also said Bell had little memory of his outburst and was “horrified” and “full of shame” when he learned of his behavior in the restaurant he otherwise ate at multiple times a week.
“Charles is not a racist,” Sievers said. “This has never happened before.”
Arguing for the six-year sentence, Lin explained that crimes based on hate are more egregious because they have a greater impact — individual victims are harmed, but so are all the members of their race or creed.
Lin also noted that a mental-health professional found Bell criminally responsible for his actions in the restaurant.
“The crime occurred for no other reason than hate,” Lin said.
Comparing Bell’s actions in the restaurant with the man sitting in court and depicted by letters written by his family, Webber said it was like he was hearing about two different people.
The judge said that a statement Bell wrote for the hearing, in which he took responsibility for his actions, was one of the most powerful sentencing letters he had ever read. But Webber also said it was lucky the 2-year-old boy didn’t lose an eye when he was cut in the face.
“When I look at Mr. Bell’s life and what he’s been through and how he got here, it’s really difficult to say a sentence of imprisonment is appropriate,” Webber said. “But when I look at the havoc that was caused on this particular date, I recognize that Mr. Bell needs to have the motivation to never drink again, and I don’t know how I can guarantee that.
“The only thing I can do is ensure that he’s in a secure setting for a lengthy period of time.”
Bell was given credit for 211 days already served.