A Valley Stream man pleaded guilty Friday to criminal mischief for shooting a street sign with a pellet gun, and ordered to take an online anti-racism course after an ongoing dispute with a next-door neighbor that sparked community protests last year after she put a sign on her front door alleging racial harassment.
The plea from John McEneaney, 58, in Nassau County District Court in Hempstead followed his arrest last year on misdemeanor charges of criminal mischief, a Class A misdemeanor, and harassment.
Nassau District Court Judge Valerie Alexander said she will sentence him Jan. 12, 2022 to three years’ probation, provided he completes an online course called “Look Deeper: Race” by Point Made Learning, whose website describes it as a digital experience “to continue the important conversations about race, racism, privilege, and inequity, which are even more necessary in this unprecedented time in our society.” He was also ordered to sign an order of protection to stay away from the neighbor.
A second count of harassment in the First Degree, a B misdemeanor, would be dismissed, prosecutor Heather Kalachman said in court, if McEneaney successfully completes the online anti-racism course by the time he is sentenced.
McEneaney’s attorney, Joseph Megale, said in the court that “both my client and I have registered for this program, judge. By what I’ve read, it looks like a fascinating program. It looks like something that all of us could benefit from.”
Megale also told the court his client was recovering from major surgery in June, and thanked the court for the adjournments in McEneaney’s case until Friday. When McEneaney appeared before the judge, he walked haltingly with a cane.
The judge said to McEneaney that she told his attorney, “and I’m telling you now, if you plead guilty, as outlined by the assistant district attorney, then I will sentence you to three years of probation and prior to your sentencing, you must complete the program Look Deeper: Race, and [there] will also be a stay away of protection ordered with incidental contact…I will keep that commitment to you as long as you have no further criminal charges against you between now and the date of your sentence, and as long as you appear on the date of your sentence.” If not, she said he could face 364 days in jail.
Then McEneaney pled guilty to intentionally shooting a pellet gun at a Valley Stream Village street sign on the corner of East Avenue and State Street between April 2017 and July 2020.
Megale said in a brief interview outside court that his client pled guilty to shooting the street sign, but noted there were “all kinds of issues” and other charges and he “didn’t plead guilty to those.”
His girlfriend, Mindy Canarick, 54, pleaded guilty earlier this year to a non-criminal violation of harassment to settle her part in the case after her arrest on a misdemeanor criminal tampering charge.
Court officials said the judge sentenced Canarick in March to a one-year conditional discharge after she finished a program about understanding diversity and inclusion. The judge also signed an order telling Canarick to stay away from neighbor Jennifer McLeggan, 40. McLeggan could not be reached for comment Friday.
Authorities arrested the couple, who are white, in August 2020 after alleging they carried out “a pattern of harassing conduct” against McLeggan, who is Black. Prosecutors said they found no evidence of hate crimes.
McLeggan put a sign on the door of her Sapir Street home in July 2020 that detailed her complaints and led to large demonstrations where protestors waved signs bearing the social media slogan #standwithjennifer.
The registered nurse said then that she lived in the home with her toddler daughter and didn’t feel safe because of harassment from the neighbors.
“My neighbors have been racially harassing me since I purchased my home … They have said that I can be erased … I live in FEAR in my home,” her sign said in part.
The Nassau district attorney’s office began an investigation after the sign went up, with investigators reviewing surveillance video and interviewing neighbors and code enforcement officers. Prosecutors said the harassment began after McLeggan moved into the home while pregnant in 2017.
Police said before the couple’s arrests that McLeggan’s harassment allegations, as well as counter allegations from the neighbors, were being investigated after close to 50 calls for police service between the parties.
Prosecutors alleged the harassment included McEneaney repeatedly shooting a pellet gun in a dangerous way, leaving pellets on McLeggan’s lawn and indentations on a street sign, and Canarick putting what looked to be feces in front of McLeggan’s home.
McLeggan also had complained publicly about dead squirrels being left by her house, the neighbors having “guns seen on video” and McEneaney wearing blackface.
In the summer of 2020, a community activist parked outside McLeggan’s home at night to keep watch for at least a month, with a state legislator later awarding him a “Protect Black Women” citation to acknowledge his effort.
McEneaney said after the couple’s court arraignments that he was “not racist,” that the allegations were “absolutely ridiculous” and that he and Canarick were “the victims.”
An attorney for McLeggan said then that the aggression her client endured went on for too long and that “the bar for achieving criminal justice” is set much higher for Black people, who “face so many added obstacles and hurdles just to be heard.”