A 72 yr old woman is facing jail time after she got into an altercation with a co-worker:
According to a detailed report by Insider Sybil Garbow describes herself as a mild-mannered, nonviolent, and dedicated nurse of more than 40 years.
“All my references are good,” the 72-year-old told Insider. “I haven’t had a physical altercation with no nurse until now.”
Now, Garbow is preparing to report to jail. Last month a judge sentenced her to six months followed by five years of probation after a jury found her guilty of felony assault.
The judge also ordered her to pay more than $51,000 in restitution, which she said she’ll struggle to pay without a job.
She’s due to report to Anoka County Workhouse, a minimum security correctional facility, on Friday.
For about half of her sentence, she said she’ll be on work release as an office clerk near the facility.
Garbow was working as a licensed practical nurse at Touchstone Mental Health in Fridley, a suburb of Minneapolis-Saint Paul, until mid-2021, when tensions between her and a nurse named Devlin Stitt reached a boiling point.
As Garbow tells it, she was disinfecting a desk in an office with a can of aerosol spray when Stitt, who apparently thought Garbow was intentionally spraying her, pushed Garbow in the chest.
As Garbow reached with her left hand for the desktop phone to call for help, she says, Stitt used the phone to hit her in the hand.
At that point, Garbow said she struck Stitt on the head with the aerosol can and fled the room.
“I left, because I was scared, ’cause Daunte Wright had just got killed. George Floyd had just got killed. And I just had a confrontation, an altercation with a white woman,” Garbow said. “I thought, ‘I’m not letting the police take me nowhere. I’ll go and turn myself in.'”
Garbow said she told her colleagues to call emergency services for Stitt, who had a laceration on her head.
Then, she said she left the facility for a friend’s house, who later drove with her to the police station.
Anoka County prosecutors charged Garbow with first-, second-, and third-degree assault with a dangerous weapon.
Garbow’s defense attorney declined to comment on this story, but court records show he argued Garbow’s behavior was a “situational offense” with an “imperfect self-defense component” to it, a legal concept wherein a defendant believes they are in danger but uses unreasonable force or acts with unreasonable fear.
But Garbow said a prosecuting attorney cast doubt over the injury to Garbow’s hand and whether Stitt hit Garbow first.
“He said, ‘Well, you still shouldn’t have hit her back. You should have found a way out of there,'” Garbow said, recalling the trial. “It was no way. She was right in front of me. And when she hit me with that, and I just reacted, hitting her back because it hurt.”
Stitt also said in an amended criminal complaint that she was struck multiple times, leaving her unable to drive and work a year later. Garbow told Insider she only hit Stitt once.
During the trial, both Garbow and her husband, who is white, observed that she was the only Black person in the courtroom other than a few witnesses called on her behalf. In May, the jury, which Garbow said was all-white, found her guilty of second-degree assault. Insider was unable to confirm the makeup of the jury with either the court or the attorneys.
“It’s like I’m invisible. I don’t matter. That’s the way I feel because it was like, ‘Oh, so what, you was hurt? You could have did it yourself.’ I’m supposed to be by nature a violent person, and I was in the fight all by myself,” Garbow said. “It took all of me to sit there and listen to them people just lie on me nonstop.”
The assault conviction disqualifies Garbow from ever practicing as a nurse again in Minnesota.
“This is frightening. My career is over. As it stands, a lot of people don’t want to hire somebody 72 years old,” Garbow said, adding that she worries about her husband who has had two strokes. “If I go away, who’s going to be here with him?”
The role race plays in the Minnesota justice system
Garbow has been attending weekly group sessions with We Resolve, an advocacy nonprofit in Minnesota that works with individuals and families facing criminal charges.
The group normally doesn’t work in Anoka County, but they made an exception for Garbow after receiving multiple calls from her and other community groups, Drake, the group’s executive director, told Insider.
“With Sybil being Black and the victim being white, it seemed that they were really going to make sure that they taught Sybil a lesson about coming into conflict with a white person or hurting a white person,” said Drake, who was present for Garbow’s sentencing hearing, but not the trial. “They wouldn’t even entertain that somehow Sybil was attacked first and was defending herself. They wouldn’t even entertain the thought.”
Drake said the sentence seemed harsh for an older woman with no criminal record, though the sentence was below sentencing guidelines in Minnesota for second-degree assault, which would have been about two years in this case.