COLUMBIA — A White Fort Jackson soldier whose April shove of a smaller Black man caught on camera that sparked protests and national outcry was found guilty of third-degree assault on Aug. 23.
Jonathan Pentland, 42, will spend either 30 days in jail or pay a $1,087 fine after the guilty verdict from Magistrate Judge Diedra Wilson Hightower on the misdemeanor charge.
Pentland was charged April 14 with pushing 22-year-old Deandre Williams two days earlier during a walk in a sprawling, diverse neighborhood northeast of Columbia. Pentland, a sergeant, was suspended from duty after the confrontation.
"I'm just thankful that we were able to get things done. Not in any way do I feel things should be this way," Williams told the court after the verdict. "As a young man, if I go on a walk, I shouldn't feel any form of pressure. I don't think anybody wants to see these types of things to go down."
The verdict came after testimony from more than a dozen witnesses, including Pentland, Williams and the Richland County Sheriff’s Department sergeant who signed the arrest warrant. The trial, which lasted nearly 21 hours over two days, marked the first time either Pentland or Williams spoke publicly since the confrontation.
Throughout the trial, Williams’ mental state was contrasted against the demeanor of Pentland.
A neighbor who lives across the street from the Pentlands, Kimberly Hernandez, testified Williams had acted erratically toward her daughter, making her uncomfortable enough that Hernandez asked the man to leave her alone.
Pentland said Williams' strange behavior put him on the defensive, and the strong language he used, including expletives and threats of physically carrying him away, was based on his military training to de-escalate situations and fear for his family’s safety.
“I would never have put my hands on him, except in self defense. I would never have harmed him," Pentland testified Aug. 23. "Never mean to inflict harm on anybody. All I was trying to do was to keep him focused on me. I wasn't trying to pick a fight."
Pentland's wife, Cassie, said on the stand she was fearful that Williams was going to charge at her at the time of the shove, which "created space" to ward him off.
"My husband was the barrier," she testified.
Pentland and other eyewitnesses have said during the trial the video clip depicting him telling the Black man to “walk away” and shouting that he was in the “wrong neighborhood” before pushing him gave an incomplete story of what happened.
The video does not show how it started or ended, or offer any explanation of what led to the fight. Pentland didn't use any slurs during the run-in, according to witness testimony and the film clip, and race was never mentioned during the trial.
“I am arguing that Mr. Pentland was defending a threat to the neighborhood,” Pentland's lawyer, Benjamin Stitely, said Aug. 23. “In the world of criminal law, this is probably the most banal third-degree assault and battery you'll see in the next six months. The problem is, my client was minding his own business."
He accused the Richland County Police Department of generating a warrant against Pentland before an investigation into the incident was concluded.
“You can't have a situation where half a law enforcement organization is doing an investigation and not turning it over," Stitely told the court Aug. 23. "Things are being hidden from us."
But Shawn McDaniels, the Richland County sergeant who signed Pentland’s arrest warrant, said Pentland’s admission of shoving Williams during a suspect interview and analysis of the video justified charging him.
Williams weighs about 100 pounds less than the 14-year soldier, who stands 6 feet tall and weighs 220 pounds.
“I saw the conversation was one-sided,” McDaniels testified. “It’s clear this was moreso a bullying situation that resulted in assault.”
Williams told the court that the video was self-explanatory.
"I’m walking, and he’s on my shoulder,” Williams testified Aug. 23. “I wasn’t in a place to try and have a confrontation with anyone.”
New details about Williams also emerged in court. His father testified that his son received a cancer diagnosis two years ago that swelled his brain and affected his cognitive state.
“He doesn’t quite understand things as we would,” his father, Demetrius, said before breaking down in tears.
The video sparked protests outside Pentland’s house in The Summit during much of April 14. The family was escorted to another location after the home was vandalized.
Pentland said he regretted the backlash that came from his confrontation with Williams, but stood by his actions.
"It's embarrassing to the community, I'm sorry for the way it escalated, anybody looking back at this, you can watch that video and 100 percent see that it looks worse than it is," he said from the stand. "I did what I felt I had to do to protect my friends and family."