Paul J. Sopko was sentenced to one day in the Dane County Jail for not having his gun permit properly renewed after he allegedly pulled that same gun on a 22-year-old black man and a black teenager, telling them “I’ll shoot you nigge–,” in a confrontation last August, and was given credit for time served — the one day he spent in jail after being arrested in the incident — meaning he will receive no further punishment.
The sentence was recommended by Dane County District Attorney Ishmael Ozanne, who charged Sopko with possessing a firearm without a permit and pointing a gun at another person, but did not charge either as a hate crime despite the racial slurs Sopko allegedly used. An all-white jury convicted Sopko only on the gun charge, but found him not guilty of pointing the gun at the black man and teen after the victim testified while in a jail uniform and handcuffs due to the Dane County Jail not giving him adequate time to change into street clothes.
After reporting from Madison365 raised some members of the community’s concerns about the trial process, Judge William Hanrahan wrote two letters to Madison365 asking for several clarifications to the reports. Judge Hanrahan also stated that it was the ineffectiveness of the District Attorney’s office that led to some of the issues reported by Madison365, and he inadvertently referred to the victim as the defendant.
These letters to Madison365, and the potential that they could be seen as expressing bias, caused Hanrahan to recuse himself from the sentencing phase of the trial, turning it over to Judge Ellen J. Berz.
At sentencing today in downtown Madison, Berz expressed concern that men like Paul J. Sopko walking around with guns on them could lead to far worse than simply pointing it at someone. She implored the defendant to change his behavior for the future.
“I can tell you people get killed by guns every day and the only way they do is by people having guns and carrying guns,” Judge Berz told Sopko. “It is just one step closer to making a huge mistake that would end up with you going not through the door that leads outside but through the door that leads to jail and prison. I suggest you strongly think about that when carrying a gun. This is Madison, Wisconsin, not Chicago.”
Judge Berz said that today’s sentencing was not contested and that she would be imposing the joint recommendation of both the prosecution and the defense for time served, but added that had the sentencing been contested, she may have imposed harsher sanctions against Sopko.
The Dane County District Attorney, however, did not seek to impose heavier sanctions on Sopko, saying the one-day sentence represents “the best interest of the public.”
Had the roles been reversed and the two black teenagers had pulled a gun on the 56-year-old, white Sopko, it might be difficult for many in communities of color to imagine they would be serving only one day in jail for simply having an unrenewed permit.
Ozanne did not respond to a message seeking comment about what might have transpired legally if the roles were reversed in this case, what his office feels constitutes a hate crime, and why it is in the public’s best interest to have two victims watch a man walk free after threatening to shoot them using racially charged language.
After the sentencing hearing, the defendant, Paul J Sopko, declined to speak with Madison365.