Pugh Hits Rock Bottom in Fall from Grace

Former City Council President accepts plea deal; faces 5.5-15 years in prison

By Jason A. Michael

DETROIT - Former City Council President Charles Pugh avoided a potentially damaging trial and possible life sentence Wednesday by accepting a deal. Pugh plead guilty to two counts of criminal sexual conduct in exchange for three counts of the more serious first degree criminal sexual conduct charge being dropped. He now faces 5.5 to 15 years in prison at his sentencing next month and, upon his release, will have to register as a sex offender for life.

"I'm glad there was an opportunity for Charles to take the offer that was given to him by the prosecutor's office," said LGBT Detroit Executive Director Curtis Lipscomb, who has known and worked with Pugh for years. "This reduced sentence will definitely give him opportunities to serve his sentence and still see freedom at some point."

Others, however, were not quite so kind.

"I'm not only disgusted by the now confirmed accusations, I'm also disgusted by his actions afterward," said Johnny Jenkins, a community activist and former Hotter Than July - Detroit Black Gay Pride board president who has known Pugh since long before the time he began a sexual relationship with a 14-year old in 2003. "He essentially abandoned the community that always had his back, providing him with the space to be an openly black gay man in his hometown. All the work and support he received from our community has been undermined.

"But at the same time our community is the epitome of resilience and continues to prosper in spite of short-term setbacks."

The relationship Pugh had with his victim, who identified himself to the media following Pugh's court appearance as now 27-year-old Austin Williams, himself a community activist involved with Hotter Than July and other causes, took place during a period between 2003 and 2004. In 2004, Pugh publicly came out. In an interview with Between The Lines that same year, at the same time the relationship with a teenage Williams was taking place, Pugh said, "I've worked hard to make myself a role model for young men in this city, and young people in general."

Shortly after coming out, and still during the course of the relationship, Pugh acted as a moderator for a historic town hall meeting on homophobia in Detroit that took place at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History.

"That was the moment his profile was raised to LGBT advocate with his peers and within our community," Jenkins said. "As far as I know, there's been no apology to our community for the abandonment or for putting us in such a disheartening position. So there are a lot of reasons why I take this so personally. He owes Detroit's black LGBT community a public apology."

But if he didn't receive a personal apology, Williams said it was Pugh's admission in open court to being in essence a sexual predator that brought closure to him.

"The shame that he put on myself and the countless other young men who have dealt with him -- he now has to deal with that for the rest of his life," Williams said. "And that's justice."

But not everyone believes Pugh deserves such a lengthy prison sentence, even if it's what sentencing guidelines call for. Williams admitted he knew he was gay at the time he met Pugh and that the sex he had was consensual, though in the state of Michigan the age of consent is 16 and therefore Williams could not legally consent to it at the time.

"My lens is markedly different," said John Trimble, a community activist and deputy executive director of the Trans Sistas of Color Project. "I don't know what being molested or being 'groomed for sex' looks like. I've never experienced it in my life. To tell the truth on myself, any time that I engaged in sex with an older man when I was younger I knew what I was doing. All I know is Charles Pugh is my friend and I have supported him and I will continue to support him and love him despite the fact that this has happened. If the law said that he is guilty, then it is what it is. But I'm not going to vilify him.

"The reality is that he's my friend and I just want my friend to be well, whatever that looks like," Trimble continued. "And I hope that when he comes out the other side he has healed and is able to go on with his life."

Lipscomb said the same.

"I really hope to see Charles once he completes his sentence, and my wish is that he'll be a changed man," he said. "I think from this point on we need to look at those who self-identify as role models and just take a step back and ask, 'How do you actualize that commitment?' It pains me to know that evidence shows that during the time he self-confessed as a role model he was also engaged (in sexual activity) with a teenager. It's really about us taking care of one another, holding leaders and people of significance accountable and making sure that everyone is safe. As much as this doesn't bring me happiness there's something we can learn from it."


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