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He Spit On a Man From Ukraine, Now a Judge Ordered Him to Write About the Immigrant Experience

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When the manager of a car dealership, a Ukrainian immigrant, asked a 37-year-old man to clean up his trash, the man spit in the manager’s face, told him to go back to his own country and threatened to cut him with a box cutter.

Now that man, Harold Eugene Denson III, of Portland, Ore., will have to reflect on what his actions might have meant to the manager — if he wants to avoid more punishment, that is.

As part of Mr. Denson’s sentence after pleading no contest to a bias crime and unlawful use of a weapon, Judge Christopher A. Ramras of Multnomah County Circuit Court ordered on Friday that he write a 500-word essay on the hardships of immigration.

“I’m not asking you to focus on any one particular country,” Judge Ramras told Mr. Denson during the sentencing. “What I am asking you to do is to put yourself into their shoes and position and write a report that explains some of the challenges of what it might be like for them coming to this country.”

There are about 50,000 immigrants from the part of the world where the manager comes from living in the Portland metropolitan area, Judge Ramras noted during the hearing.

Mr. Denson, who has been homeless for a year, according to his lawyer, Autumn Shreve, has until March to submit the essay. If the court accepts it, he can withdraw his plea and the bias crime charge will be dropped. If not, Mr. Denson will be convicted and could face more penalties, according to a news release from the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office.

Mr. Denson pleaded no contest to the bias crime charge and to one count of unlawful use of a weapon on Friday. Mr. Denson, who has been in jail since August, was sentenced on the weapon charge to the 90 days he had already served. He was released on Monday, according to Ms. Shreve.

More than a week before the sentencing, Judge Ramras first met with Mr. Denson and Ms. Shreve to suggest the essay idea, Ms. Shreve said in an interview on Monday. When Mr. Denson agreed, Ms. Shreve formally proposed it to the state, she added. “I think it’s more effective than just jail or straight probation,” Ms. Shreve said. Mr. Denson is very willing and happy to do it, she added.

On Aug. 25, Mr. Denson was collecting cans on the property of a car dealership, according to his lawyer.

Prosecutors say he threw trash all over the property. The dealership’s manager, an immigrant from Ukraine, approached Mr. Denson, gave him a trash bag and asked him to clean up the area, they said.

Mr. Denson thanked the manager before he “suddenly became agitated” and yelled that the car dealership was “American soil” and not the manager’s property, according to prosecutors. He then spit in the manager’s face, told him to go back to his own country and threatened to cut him with a box cutter, they said.

Ms. Shreve said that Mr. Denson had been collecting cans to redeem for 10 cents each when his bag broke. He had already started picking up the fallen cans when the manager approached, she added.

When the police responded, they found the box cutter in Mr. Denson’s pocket before arresting him.

Though this is the first time a client of hers will write an essay, Ms. Shreve said it was not entirely out of the ordinary for a sentence to include a letter of apology, paying victims or completing volunteer work.

“Mr. Denson needs to understand the impact his actions had on the victim and our immigrant communities,” Nicole Hermann, a Multnomah County deputy district attorney, said in the office’s news release. “This is an opportunity for him to reconcile his behavior through compassion, learning and understanding.”

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