Three students charged with hate crimes at California college

San Jose State University students are accused of taunting their black roommate with racial epithets, Confederate flag

Champagne Ellison, left, a senior at San Jose State University, marches Thursday in a protest over reported racial hazing of an African-American freshman by his dormitory roommates.
Karl Mondon/AP

Three university students in California accused of taunting their black roommate with racial slurs and references to slavery, once trying to clamp a bicycle lock on his neck, have been charged with hate crimes in an incident that has roiled the campus.

The three freshmen have also been suspended from their school, San Jose State University, in Northern California, east of the tech hub of Silicon Valley, where student protests erupted this week after the accusations came to light.

A fourth student was suspended Friday in connection with the incidents.

"I applaud the campus for its ongoing efforts to begin the healing process that is necessary," California State University Chancellor Timothy White said in a statement Friday. San Jose State is a part of the 23 campus CSU system.

"(SJSU) President Qayoumi has already reached out to African-American leaders in the Bay Area for their counsel and assistance.

Logan Beaschler and Collin Warren, both 18, and 19-year-old Joseph Bomgardner, have been charged with misdemeanor hate crime and battery, Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney Erin West said.

The three men, who lived with the 17-year-old victim in a four-bedroom dormitory suite they shared with four other students, allegedly began harassing their black roommate starting at the beginning of the school year in August.  

At first, the suspects nicknamed the victim "Three-fifths" and "Fraction," referring to the way the U.S. government once counted a slave as three-fifths of a free person, police said.

According to a police report, they outfitted their suite with a Confederate flag, barricaded the victim in his room, and placed a U-shaped bicycle lock around his neck and claiming they lost the key.

The victim hasn't been named at his parents' request.

Beaschler has surrendered to authorities and Warren and Bomgardner were expected to do so this week, West said. Each could face a year in jail if convicted at trial.

"When I look at all of this together, there's really no other conclusion but that it was motivated by hate," she said. "Its hard to imagine in 2013 that a young black man could go to college and be subjected to this kind of torment."

West said the alleged victim's parents became aware of the situation when they dropped him off at school after a weekend at home and saw the Confederate flag, along with a racial slur written on a white board.

The parents called San Jose State housing administrators, who contacted university police.

"I think the truth of it is, he was scared," West said of the alleged victim. "He was scared for his physical safety. He would lock his door at night and every time he came back into that suite he didn't know what (to expect)."

She said that, in interviews with police, the three men had described the incidents as pranks.

"Let me be clear: I am outraged and saddened by these allegations. They are utterly inconsistent with our long cherished history of tolerance, respect for diversity and personal civility," University President Mohammad Qayoumi said in a statement issued on Thursday as students held a protest march and rally on campus grounds.

Qayoumi also announced that after meeting Friday morning with the Rev. Jethroe Moore, president of the San Jose/Silicon Valley Chapter of the NAACP, he is taking a number of steps in response to the allegations, including: hosting a campus forum in December to discuss racial intolerance at SJSU; offering a lecture series next spring on diversity and tolerance; and a review of the university's practices related to students' well-being.

Qayoumi and Moore will hold a press conference on the campus at noon Monday to discuss the pending criminal charges.

"We are deeply disturbed by the horrific behaviors that have taken place against our son," the family of the alleged victim, who is now 18, wrote in a statement released to the San Jose Mercury News. "Our immediate focus is his protection."

Al Jazeera and wire services

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