Smiling in the parking lot of the Jackson County Courthouse on Wednesday, Charles Albert Colenaty was relieved his trial is over.
The 32-year-old homeless Ashland resident's arrest on the Ashland Plaza on May 19, 2016, was videotaped by a bystander and posted online. In the video, Colenaty, who goes by the name “Redwood,” can be heard yelling out that he cannot move because he is autistic and afraid. It takes four officers to hold him down and handcuff him.
The video has been watched more than 200,000 times.
Colenaty was found guilty by a six-person jury on three counts, two of resisting arrest and one of interfering with a peace officer, and not guilty on one charge, assault in the fourth degree. One resisting arrest charge was for an earlier encounter with authorities on March 31.
He was ordered to perform 240 hours of community service within 18 months.
“I’m excited to be able to do community service," Colenaty told a reporter after sentencing. "I’m hoping to work outside with plants, to clean things up, or to work with other autistic people. I’m so happy to be able to do service.”
His charges involved interfering with an officer when Colenaty told police they could not ask another homeless man to see proof that his dog was a service dog. Colenaty, according to police, interfered with their duties and began yelling. When officers moved to detain him by removing him from the park bench, he is pulled from a bench by officers pinned down as Colenaty protests that he can’t move.
An account of the arrest by the Ashland Police Department says Colenaty walked towards officers and initially refused to back off. Officers on scene called for back up to arrest him, and it was during that time Colenaty sat down on the bench.
The convictions could have resulted in jail time, which prosecuting attorney Chelsea Ashton recommended, saying that Colenaty would be better off serving 10 days. “We don’t believe he is stable enough for community service. We request 10 days in jail,” she told Judge David Hoppe.
But the Colenaty’s attorney, Colin Murphy, assured the judge that his client would complete his service. “He is very amenable to community service and he is excited to do it," Murphy said. "We all know our jail is full. I’d much rather he do community service. If he doesn’t do it, then it reverts to jail.”
Colenaty then rose to speak on his own behalf, asking to do public service. “It would give me a place to be rather than getting in the way of police officers,” he said. Colenaty, who is on disability as a result of his autism, told Judge Hoppe that he is "bored" by not being able to contribute. “I want to do something. Community service is something I value. It doesn’t matter if I was rightfully or wrongfully convicted. Community service is something I want to know more about.”
The judge granted his request, but warned him to be careful: “You’re a big person (estimated at 6 foot, 5 inches, 300 pounds), you’re scary to officers. Ashland handled this differently than some jurisdictions might have.” The judge told Colenaty he understands the his desire to defend his rights, but urged him to be cautious.
“I just hope I can work outside," Colenaty said about his sentence. "I love to clean things up and make them look good again. I’m so happy to do that.”
Murphy, Colenaty's attorney, said he would appeal the sentence, on grounds his arrest was not lawful. Murphy said he was merely sitting on a bench expressing concern about the other person being questioned by police. “If you’re not being arrested lawfully, then you should be able to resist a non-lawful order,” said Colenaty. Murphy said that’s the crux of the appeal, noting that jury instructions included a statement that Colenaty had no right to resist.
— Email Ashland freelance writer Julie Akins at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/@julieakins.