D.C. Superior Court Judge Robert E. Morin yesterday sentenced Thomas Derrick Ross, a former street hustler turned housing manager, to four weekends in jail and 18 months of probation for whipping his son with a belt.
Morin called the case a difficult one. Ross, a former street crew member widely praised for his role in ending street violence in a Southeast Washington neighborhood nicknamed Simple City, was facing jail for an act of violence against his son.
A doctor who examined Ross's 9-year-old son after the July incident said the child had suffered "acute bruising." During yesterday's hearing, Joy Turner, the child's mother, asked Morin to give Ross, 25, of Temple Hills, jail time because the incident "emotionally scarred" her son.
"My son is really going through a lot because of this," she said. Turner and Assistant U.S. Attorney Ryan Rainey argued that although the child had been bleeding, Ross did not seek medical care.
In his defense, Ross denied that his son had been bleeding. He also said that at the time, he did not know how to properly discipline a child and that he had been hit himself with a belt as a child. Richard G. Morgan, Ross's attorney, said that since pleading guilty in July to a misdemeanor charge of second-degree attempted cruelty to children, Ross has been participating in parenting classes.
For nearly three years, Ross has taken steps to transform his life, a process featured in a Washington Post article. Ross joined a District Housing Authority work team that rehabilitated the Benning Terrace housing complex, once a battleground for rival street crews. Ross also completed an internship that led to a housing authority management job. Yesterday, the District's housing receiver, David I. Gilmore, asked that Ross not be jailed.
Gilmore said he was convinced that in trying to correct his son's behavior, Ross "thought he was doing what he had wished others would have done for him" during his childhood. Although Ross is doing a "terrific job" as a housing manager, Gilmore said the incident indicated that his personal rehabilitation is incomplete and urged Morin to allow Ross to continue the process.
Morin told Ross that "in many ways you are a remarkable young man." Yet, Morin said, Ross needed to understand that the bruises were "cruel, mean" and "not even in the realm of appropriate discipline. I think the act has to be punished."
Morin sentenced Ross to 180 days with all but four weekends suspended, to be served during consecutive weekends beginning Friday night. Ross also received probation and was ordered to attend anger-management classes. The judge said he hoped Ross would view the sentence as a part of his personal rehabilitation and as a message that "you can't do this to children."
Turner called the sentence lenient. "The way he beat my child, weekends are not enough," Turner said later. "My son is really suffering because of this incident. [Ross] did not once say 'I'm sorry.' "
Turner said she is convinced the court allowed Ross's accomplishments to overshadow what he did to his son. Turner said she did not know why Ross was trying to discipline him.
After sentencing, Ross said he punished his son because other parents warned him his son was associating with young boys involved in illegal activity. Ross said he never meant to hurt his son.
Parenting classes have shown him alternative ways to discipline, Ross said. "My sentence is the best thing that could be done. It sends a message to the street that this will not be tolerated no matter who you are."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Rainey said Ross's guilty plea worked in his favor. "He took responsibility."
CAPTION: Thomas Derrick Ross was the subject of a Washington Post profile.