Three white San Jose State University students were suspended on Thursday after being charged with battery and a hate crime against their black roommate. Prosecutors say they put a bike lock around his neck, and hung Nazi symbols and the Confederate flag around the dorm suite they all shared.
The 18-year-old African-American student, who is still attending classes, was allegedly subjected to three months of harassment, intimidation and bullying by his roommates starting in August and ending in mid-October, according to the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office, Prosecutors filed charges on Wednesday.
The victim only spoke up recently, prosecutors said, because he wanted to “get along.” His family issued a brief statement (PDF) saying they are "deeply disturbed by the horrific behaviors that have taken place against our son."
They declined further comment because they want to protect him.
The roommates, Colin Warren, 18, of Woodacre, Joseph Bomgardner, 19, of Clovis in Fresno County, and Logan Beaschler, 18, of Bakersfield, will be suspended for "at least several months," said Vice President of Student Affairs William Nance. He added that their alleged behavior is “outrageous and disgusting.”
Nance said that he, too, along with everyone else wants to know how this went on so long without anyone at school doing anything about it.
"If you see something, say something," he said at a Thursday news conference, urging people in the future to come forward and report such behavior.
The university's chief of police, Peter Decena, said the teens had not yet been arrested on the misdemeanor charges, but were in the process of turning themselves in with their families and attorneys. It was a confluence of evidence, Decena added, that led to the charges.
Some of the allegations include making racial nicknames, putting a Confederate flag in the common area of the dorm suite they shared, locking him in his bedroom, keeping a photo of Adoph Hilter in the room, and putting a bike lock around his neck for about ten minutes, prosecutors said
University President Mohammad Qayoumi did not attend the conference but in an email said he was outraged and saddened by the allegations.
"They are utterly inconsistent with our long cherished history of tolerance, respect for diversity and personal civility. The three students suspected of this conduct have been suspended, effective today," Qayoumi stated.
Howard Hsieh told NBC Bay Area on Thursday night that he is friends with both the victim and the suspects. He said he couldn't tell that anything was wrong with the victim who seemed "perfectly fine." He said he doesn't support the suspects' actions but he supports them as friends.
San Jose State, the oldest public university in California has prided itself on its official commitment to diversity. Last month, the school named seniors Daniel Harris-Lucas, 23, and Diana Busaka, 22, as the first African-American couple as homecoming king and queen.
And the campus received worldwide attention in 1968 Olympics when two San Jose State University students large statue of Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists in a “Black Power” salute, captured in a larger-than-life statue on campus today.
That statue was the backdrop for a 200-person strong rally on Thursday held by the Black Student Union at SJSU where African-Americans comprise roughly four percent of the 34,000 students who attend the school.
“We’re outraged. This school had been dragging its feet on this for some time and it’s ridiculous,” Black Unity Group's Tierney Yates said.
Some students, especially African-American ones, were skeptical at the university's response.
"You've been telling us for years that things are fine," student Gary Daniels, 21, said. "But this is a hostile environment for black students."