- Associated Press - Friday, February 19, 2016

BELLEVILLE, Ill. (AP) - A former strip club bouncer who pleaded guilty to mob action after driving over a customer with his pickup truck was sentenced Friday to one year in prison, drawing courtroom cries of shock and anguish from the victim’s family in a case that inflamed racial tensions in East St. Louis.

Reginald Allen, 33, of Dupo faced a sentencing range from probation to up to six years in prison in St. Clair County Circuit Court following his December 2015 plea. He was initially charged with reckless homicide in the 2009 death of Anthony Rice during a parking lot dispute outside a now-shuttered club that Allen’s family owned.

Judge Jan Fiss handed down the sentence without comment.

Authorities say Allen, who is white, taunted Rice, a 23-year-old black man, and his brother with racial comments and threw a brick through their friend’s car window. Allen said he feared for his life after the friend grabbed a gun from his car and fired several warning shots once Allen had thrown the brick.

Rice’s family and supporters protested weekly outside East St. Louis City Hall until criminal charges were filed nearly two years later. Aubrey Rice, the victim’s brother, stormed out of the courtroom cursing when Judge Jan Fiss announced the sentence. Annette Nash-Smith collapsed in a hallway outside the courtroom, overcome with grief for her dead son.

“Anthony, I’m sorry,” she cried.

The confrontation began when Rice, his brother - who was celebrating his 21st birthday - and their two friends were denied entry into the club near its 4 a.m. closing time.

Surveillance camera footage shows Rice trying to enter the club after being denied entry but running away as a stun gun-wielding co-worker of Allen’s pushed against the door from inside. Another camera shows Allen leave through the club’s back door, enter his white Ford F-150 pickup truck and swerve through the front parking lot.

Charges against Allen in an alleged 2012 attack of a dancer and two others at another topless club owned by his mother were dropped as part of the plea deal. That dancer, who reached a confidential settlement in a civil suit against Allen, testified Friday for the prosecution.

Allen’s lengthy criminal record includes a guilty plea to unlawful possession and transporting anhydrous ammonia, an ingredient in methamphetamine, for which he served less than a year on a three-year sentence. He was also convicted in 2004 of aggravated battery for using his car to knock down a motorcyclist during an argument.

“This wouldn’t have happened if (Allen) was black,” said Justin Meehan, Rice’s great-uncle and an attorney in St. Louis, Missouri. East St. Louis is 98 percent black, but two-thirds of St. Clair County residents are white.

Rice’s family had previously settled a wrongful death suit against the Allen family and their businesses for $1 million.

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Follow Alan Scher Zagier on Twitter at https://twitter.com/azagier

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