A Maryland man was sentenced to 25 years in prison on Wednesday over a 2018 incident in which he shot a Black man in a Baltimore suburb and reportedly told him to "go back to Africa."
Brandon Higgs, the white man sentenced, was found to have links to white supremacist groups during the investigation, according to John Magee from the Baltimore County State's Attorney's Office.
According to court records, 26-year old Higgs was found guilty in January of attempted voluntary manslaughter, first-degree assault, firearms charges and hate crimes during the altercation in a Baltimore suburb where he shot Elvis Smith in the leg.
Judge Dennis M. Robinson, Jr. handed down a sentence of 40 years, but suspended 15 years during the ruling, Magee told NPR. That means Higgs will likely serve 25 years, plus five years of supervised probation time.
"Those 15 [years] suspended now are essentially hanging over his head," Magee told NPR. "If he were to violate his probation once he's released, then the judge could reimpose the remaining 15 years."
Higgs pleaded not guilty and declined two plea deals, according to The Baltimore Sun.
On the day of the incident in December 2018, Smith was working with another man to lay concrete in a driveway near Higgs' home. Higgs' dog ran through the wet concrete, and the men had an argument, Magee said.
Higgs went home briefly and then returned, yelling expletives at Smith and telling him to "go back to Africa," the Huffington Post reported. "You're not supposed to be here," Smith recalled Higgs saying, according to the Post. "This neighborhood is ours."
"At this point he had a loaded weapon in his pocket," Magee told NPR. "He's looking for provocation. He's looking to incite a violent response."
Smith and Higgs tussled, as Smith was "wrestling for control of the gun," Magee said. "The victim at that point was trying to survive." Then, Higgs fired the gun, shattering Smith's leg.
During the investigation, police found "white nationalist type paraphernalia in his home," the prosecutor said. They found a flag of the white supremacist group Vanguard America.
Police also uncovered evidence of Higgs participating in racist conversations online, the prosecutor said.
Magee says he believes Higgs' motivation was "hate for African Americans." He called the sentence "fair and appropriate."
"This crime would not have happened if the victims were Caucasian workers," he added.
"This is a stain that's going to be on me for the rest of my life," Smith told the Post in a 2019 interview.
"I will never have closure because, in my heart, I was out there working, doing the honest job. I was attacked, and I'm the one walking around with a limp."