The former executive director of Urban Christian Ministries was sentenced Thursday to weekends in jail for three months and to five years probation for pointing a loaded rifle as he drove past a Buffalo bar last summer.
Alexander J. Wright expected to be sentenced only to probation.
But Erie County Judge Thomas P. Franczyk said he was “put off” by the comments Wright made about his sentencing expectations in an Oct. 5 story in The Buffalo News. Wright’s comments at the time came about a week after he pleaded guilty to third-degree criminal possession of a weapon.
The judge said Wright’s comments suggested the sentencing was a done deal. But the judge had made no sentencing commitment when Wright pleaded guilty Sept. 30.
The judge also noted Wright told police when he was arrested in July that he would be released on his own recognizance.
Police looked for Wright early July 7 after bar employees reported he pointed a loaded rifle from his sport utility vehicle as he drove past the bar at Genesee Street near Jefferson Avenue. When they caught up with Wright a mile away, they found the rifle in the back seat and an open bottle of Jack Daniels on the front passenger floor.
His arrest came only hours after Wright, 34, received a civic group’s humanitarian award at a banquet and had been photographed with the mayor of Buffalo. Wright previously spoke out against violence and weapons as the nonprofit organization’s executive director since May 2012.
The judge said he could not understand why Wright returned to the bar. Wright told The News that he had been escorted out of the bar earlier that evening under protection because he said four men “were going to jump me.” He went to the bar after receiving the award.
“Why you went back there with a bottle of Jack and a gun” makes no sense, Franczyk said.
Franczyk noted that Wright, a 2008 University at Buffalo Law School graduate, is a well-educated man and held a position of respect in the community.
“You were supposed to be a role model in the community,” the judge told him.
Wright resigned as executive director at Urban Christian Ministries after the newspaper published a story about his guilty plea.
Wright told the judge he is deeply ashamed “for the mark I have made on my race and community.”
In the Oct. 5 story, Wright told The News he returned to the bar pick up an intoxicated friend who needed a ride home, but he felt threatened in the neighborhood because of recent robberies that victimized a family member and a friend. That’s why he brought the rifle, he said.
At today’s sentencing, Wright’s attorney, Nicholas W. Hicks, said Wright had worked hard to help youth in the community but that he made a serious error in judgment when he went to the bar.
“The youth who looked up to him now know that error,” Hicks told the judge.
He said his client has paid a hefty price for his decision.
“I don’t know why smart people do dumb things,” Hicks said. “He’s human. He made a mistake.”
Hicks said Wright’s life will never be the same.
“He may have to start life over somewhere else,” he said.
The attorney also criticized The News story in which Wright said he expected to be sentenced to probation, not prison.
He said the story painted his client as arrogant.
“He is a humble but intelligent man who speaks his mind,” he told the judge.
Franczyk ordered Wright to report to the Erie County Correctional Facility on Friday to begin serving his sentence of weekends in jail, which will run through March 7-10.
Wright had faced a maximum possible prison sentence of seven years.