A jury Monday found three white men – one of them from Clovis – guilty of misdemeanor battery on a black suitemate in 2013 at San Jose State University, but they did not reach guilty verdicts on more serious hate crime charges.
After deliberating for slightly more than two days, jurors agreed that Joseph “Brett” Bomgardner of Clovis, Colin Warren of Woodacre and Logan Beaschler of Bakersfield “offensively touched” their fellow freshman suitemate, Donald “DJ” Williams Jr., either by clamping a U-shaped bike lock around his neck and/or by attempting to do so a second time.
But the jury of six men and six women – which had no African American members – found Bomgardner, now 21, not guilty of misdemeanor hate crime and deadlocked on hate crime charges against Warren and Beaschler, both 20.
The hazing during the fall 2013 semester sparked community outrage, campus protests, an internal investigation, an apology from the president of the university – where blacks make up 3 percent of the student body – and the creation of a campus task force on racial discrimination.
Witnesses testified during the more than two-week trial that the abuse of Williams, who was 17 at the time, included the two bike lock incidents, as well as calling him by the nicknames referring to America’s history of slavery, writing a form of the “N-word” on a whiteboard and displaying the Confederate flag. Attorneys for the defendants, who were all San Jose State freshmen at the time of the incidents, argued that their clients simply took a “prank war” too far because they were “immature, insensitive and stupid.”
But in a statement on the courthouse steps after the verdict, Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen disputed that characterization.
“Prejudice is not a prank,” said Rosen, who also commended Williams for his grace throughout the “ordeal.” “Today’s decision was partially disappointing but not dispiriting. Our resolve to fight hate crimes remains unwavering.”
The jury voted 7-5 and 9-3 in favor of acquittal on the hate crime charges for Beaschler and Warren, respectively. Beaschler was responsible for displaying the Confederate flag, which he testified was an expression of his support for states’ rights, as well as a swastika and other Nazi symbols, which he said was political satire.
One of the jurors who voted to acquit the men of the hate crime charges said he concluded there was reasonable doubt that the two bike lock incidents, which occurred early in the fall semester and were charged by the prosecution as the actual hate crimes, were driven by racial bias. The juror said the bullying that followed appeared racially tinged, but he was reluctant to consider those attitudes retroactive.
“I went in thinking it was a hate crime,” said the juror, who is in his 30s and a member of the Green Party. “But it was only Mr. Williams who said they called him racist nicknames before the bike lock incidents.”
However, a female juror in her 60s voted for a conviction, partly because she did not accept that Beaschler was a quiet, shy young man who didn’t know that displaying the Confederate flag was offensive to blacks.
“I never had a moment’s doubt that they were guilty of hate crimes,” she said.
The jury found it easy to acquit Bomgardner because he was rarely in the dormitory suite and had a limited role in the hazing, joining only in the second bike lock attempt, the female juror said.