An act of road rage, a caught-on-camera swerve into a bicyclist on East High Street in Charlottesville, has been resolved with no jail time for the motorist and a few exasperated words from the judge and victim.
One year after it began, the felony case against 32-year-old Downtown Mall restaurant worker John Dean Sherwin concluded Tuesday with a misdemeanor guilty plea, a suspended jail sentence and some concern from the bicycling community.
I think a lot of people will be disappointed,” avid Charlottesville bicyclist Ethan Gruber told The Daily Progress. “I know that a lot of cyclists are upset about the intentional hitting of a cyclist.”
Surveillance video shows that on the afternoon of Oct. 18, 2022, a sedan driven by Sherwin suddenly jerked out of its lane on East High Street and into a shouting cyclist’s path near Hazel Street.
The ensuing collision, which apparently sheared off Sherwin’s car’s passenger-side mirror, caused the cyclist to tumble into a bush. After urging from a crossing guard who witnessed the incident, the victim filed a police report that cited a finger injury and a damaged electric bike.
Charged with felony hit-and-run, Sherwin could have faced a one- to 10-year jail term. However, the Orange County resident who works for the firm operating the Bebedero restaurant in downtown Charlottesville among other restaurants never went to jail and was instead offered a chance to participate in a new “restorative justice” process.
Testifying about that process in Charlottesville Circuit Court Tuesday afternoon was Ashley Cinalli-Mathews, the co-director of Central Virginia Community Justice. She told the court that Sherwin, the victim and others were consulted to come up with a “program” whose parameters she declined to divulge. That drew a befuddled expression from Judge Claude Worrell.
“You weren’t told what the program was?” he asked.
She replied she wasn’t at liberty to discuss it.
“It’s confidential,” said Cinalli-Mathews.
Her answers only seemed to heighten Worrell’s concern.
“This is a crime against the commonwealth of Virginia,” said Worrell. “All of us.”
The judge complained that he was being asked to ratify a plea agreement without sufficient information. Worrell then went through a set of hypotheticals — including asking whether five years in jail or a requirement that Sherwin perform a daily battery of push-ups would be fair punishments.
“That’s not for me to say,” answered Cinalli-Mathews.
“How does a secretive process like this — or a confidential process like this — lend to the public’s understanding?” asked Worrell. “How do I get to know whether this makes sense or not?”
Eventually, Sherwin’s attorney, Mike Hallahan, stood up to say that his client paid the victim $700 for a new bicycle, took a driving safety class, registered with Offender Aid and Restoration, and performed 50 hours of community service at the Haven, a downtown day shelter for the homeless.
Despite his reservations, Worrell concluded the hearing by approving the deal, which suspended all 12 months of a 12-month sentence and suspended a $2,500 fine.
“I hope that in the future, when we get some more cases from restorative justice, that we get some more information,” said Worrell.
“I don’t know if we will,” replied the prosecutor, Joe Platania.
Outside of court, Platania, who is the Charlottesville commonwealth’s attorney and one of the instigators of the local restorative justice system, said he stands by the program despite the judge’s concern.
“Giving increased agency, absent meaningful oversight, to harmed individuals is not what prosecutors and judges are used to,” Platania told the Progress. “I get that.”
Another supporter is Sherwin.
“I really hope this is something that gains more traction in the future for first-time offenders and those who just made a mistake in the heat of the moment,” Sherwin told The Daily Progress.
Sherwin declined to further discuss his case, but his victim, 38-year-old Kenyon Barnes, expressed some remorse.
“I was too much of a nice guy,” Barnes told The Daily Progress. “He got away with it. I hope he learned something.”