The 18-year-old African-American student after admitting to writing racist graffiti on the walls of , pleaded not guilty in 48th District Court on Wednesday morning.
Courtney Thomas has already been from Seaholm after he admitted to the . The graffiti was the first in a string of racial incidents at the high school.
Neither the police nor school administrators would confirm whether Thomas was responsible for other incidents at Seaholm, which includes more graffiti and racist notes discovered in an and the .
Thomas admitted to first the incident on May 11 after being brought before Seaholm administrators for questioning.
Thomas appeared before Judge Diane D’Agostini Wednesday morning, dressed in a checked shirt and blue sweater. He was accompanied by Birmingham police and schools liason officer Al Smith.
D’Agostini reminded Thomas that charges of ethnic intimidation carry prison sentences of two years or a $5,000 fine. Thomas is being charged under the ethnic intimidation law because of the nature of the graffiti, which included the names of five African-American students and references to lynching.
Though he admitted to writing the graffiti, Thomas’ own name was included in the list and according to Birmingham Police Cmdr. Terry Kiernan, Thomas was one of the two students who first reported the incident to school administrators.
In addition, Thomas was one of a few students who spoke at the school's May 6 , hosted by Seaholm's Diversity Club. Thomas read a poem he wrote speaking out against racism.
Thomas's poem reads: "I feel like the message was not received as I feel as though we’ve all been deceived. I plan to stop this racism once and for all but when it’s all said and done who will take the fall? Will you make a stand with me and start to infiltrate peace? I believe it’s a new day and a new start — let’s all be loved and rip racism apart."
Thomas’s lawyer, Wendy Barnwell, contended Thomas is a “good kid.” Thomas turned himself in to Birmingham police Wednesday morning, before the arraignment, alongside family members, she said.
“He has lived a very unblemished life,” she said.
Thomas, a senior at Seaholm, is set to graduate this spring, though he won’t walk in the June 5 ceremony. Thomas lives with his mother in Birmingham and, as a full-time student, isn’t employed. He and his mother are also active members of the , his lawyers said.
Barnwell contended Thomas has been a victim of bullying during his last four years at Seaholm. However, this incident is against Thomas’s nature, his lawyer said.
“He’s a good solid kid,” she said. “He’s very contrite and he’s under a lot of pressure right now because of the media attention.”
Jamie Brooks, president of Birmingham's African American Family Network, said he was shocked to hear the student behind the graffiti is black.
"What would cause an African-American male to speak like that?" he said. "That becomes confusing when you use those terms that we are trying to avoid and move behind us."
Brooks said the network will be reaching out to area parents to see what kind of support they can provide.
"It's definitely not good, but we have to move forward," he said. "Our goals are to make our school safe and welcoming for all students."
As for Thomas' not guilty plea, Barnwell said she intends to fight the ethnic intimidation statute, noting the law requires intent on the part of the party at fault.
Thomas was released, upon the recommendation of his lawyer and Smith, on a personal bond. D’Agostini instituted a 7 p.m. curfew and said Thomas could only leave his home for work or medical reasons. His lawyer said Thomas attends counseling.
A pre-exam conference is set for 8:30 a.m. May 24.