Under state sentencing guidelines, William Cunningham faced three to nine months in jail for threatening and repeatedly spewing racist slurs at a Black high school student. After Cunningham, 40, pleaded guilty last month, prosecutors recommended the low end of that range. The defense pushed for no time in custody.
Using words like “horrified,” “outrageous” and “despicable,” Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Millie Judge disagreed with both arguments, instead sentencing the defendant to the high end of the range.
The felony charges filed early this year stemmed from an incident Nov. 10, 2021, at Monroe High School. It started when Cunningham’s daughter, who is white, shoved a friend of the Black student in the school hallway. Her boyfriend reportedly told them to “take it outside.”
Later, the Black student, then 16, confronted the girl and her boyfriend in the school parking lot. The three of them threatened to fight each other, according to charging papers. As shown on video that circulated on social media, the girl repeatedly used a racist slur, escalating the situation.
The boyfriend reportedly pushed the Black student. In fear of getting punched, he grabbed the boyfriend’s shirt. They shoved each other. As they grappled, the girl yelled for her boyfriend to “smash his (expletive),” according to court documents. She also used a racist slur.
The girl, now 18, then hit the Black student in the head with a water bottle, video shows. She claimed the victim “put hands on her.” But the video does not back up that claim, deputy prosecutor Kirk Mahjoubian wrote in the charges.
After this scuffle, the three separated, according to court papers.
But Cunningham’s daughter reportedly reignited the confrontation when she approached the Black student with her phone out.
“This is him,” she said, according to the charges.
The Black student heard an unfamiliar voice on the phone. She later put the phone on speaker next to the student’s ear. The voice on the line belonged to Cunningham, according to court documents.
Citing video evidence, prosecutors alleged he said he was “going to (expletive) all you (N-word) up” and “if I see you I’ll kill you.”
Cunningham’s daughter asked the victim if he heard.
“He said he’s a white cracker and he’ll (expletive) all you (N-word) up. You want to act ignorant?” she reportedly said. Addressing her boyfriend, she added: “My dad says, ‘You got something metal in the car? Smack that (expletive) in his mouth right now.’” She also said more racist slurs.
After the confrontation, the Black student was visibly upset. His mother Stephanie Holliman drove to the school to get him.
In that moment, she told The Daily Herald in November, “I’m crying and I’m emotional because a hate crime was happening to him.”
He transferred to another school after the attack. In court Wednesday, Holliman said she worries about her son every time her phone rings at work.
“It was a huge hardship for everybody,” she said. “… It was really terrifying for an adult to say something like that to a child.”
But the harassment didn’t end with the Nov. 10 incident. Later that month, Cunningham, his daughter and her boyfriend went to the victim’s workplace and followed him around for 20 minutes before leaving when Holliman got there. A coworker reportedly told him they’d been coming for three days straight.
“It makes me wonder what you would have done if you had time alone with him,” the judge said Wednesday.
In a police interview at the time, Cunningham acknowledged making the threats and saying the slurs. At Wednesday’s sentencing, he apologized to the victim and his family for the “harsh words.”
“I just overreacted to a situation I should have stayed out of,” Cunningham said.
At the request of prosecutors, Cunningham remained out of custody throughout the legal proceedings. Cunningham’s defense attorney, Albert Guadagno, asked the judge Wednesday for a week of grace time before Cunningham would be booked into jail. She denied that request.
Since the November incident, families of color in Monroe came forward with their stories of how they’ve been treated there. The discussion around racism culminated in Superintendent Justin Blasko’s resignation from the district after an outside investigation found numerous instances of inappropriate language, bullying and sexist outbursts.