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Student from Santa Cruz Files $5 Million Claim against SJSU after Dormitory Hate Crimes
Donald Williams Jr., a black student at San Jose State University, filed a $5 million claim on March 19 against the institution, which alleges breach of contract, breach of duty, negligence, and violation of the Unruh Act. The claim stems from alleged hate crimes committed against Williams in his SJSU dorm room by three of his housemates in the Fall of 2013. After the incidents became public, large protest rallies were held at the university organized by the SJSU Black Student Union, which demanded change at the university, including protecting its African American studies courses. [Top photo: Students rally against racial injustice at SJSU in November of 2013 during "Black Monday"]
In February an independent fact finding report was released that outlined the incidents. The report states that the series of events occurred over the course of the semester, between late August and early October of 2013, and the University became aware of the Victim’s situation on October 13. Williams' parents were visiting their son's accommodations on that date when they observed a Confederate flag in the common area and a racial slur written on a whiteboard. Williams' parents then reported their observations to the Resident Assistants (“RA”) on duty.
The incidents listed in the report include:
– A student from another suite suggested the possibility of giving the Victim a nickname – “3/5. The Suspects referred to the Victim by this nickname – and a subsequent modification, “Fraction” – for several days in the first two weeks of the semester.
– The Victim, and on occasion his roommate, were barricaded in their bedroom by the placement of a table outside of the bedroom door. The Victim’s roommate called Suspect 4 to request that the table be moved and Suspect 4 moved the table. This incident was repeated 3-4 times.
– Suspect 2 obtained a U-shaped bicycle lock and together with Suspects 3 and 4 placed the lock around the Victim’s neck. The first time this occurred, in the common area of the suite, the incident was described by Suspect 2 to have begun as a joke in response to viewing a similar prank from a television show. In a second incident, Suspects 2, 3 and 4 lured the Victim into Suspect 3’s bedroom and attempted unsuccessfully to place the lock on the Victim’s neck in a forcible manner, resulting in a minor injury to the Victim.
– One (or more) of the Suspects removed the Victim’s shoes from his closet and hid them. On a second occasion, Suspects 1 and 2 removed the Victim’s shoes from his closet in an attempt to lure the Victim into a closet. The door handle on the inside of the closet had been removed and it appeared that the intent was to trap the Victim in the closet.
– Suspects 1 and 2 displayed a Confederate flag in the common area of the Suite. The Victim objected to the display and the flag was taken down. Suspects 1 and 2 displayed the flag again after the Victim returned home for a weekend visit. The flag was observed on display in the common area by the Victim and his parents upon return to the Suite.
– A racial slur was written on a whiteboard posted on a wall in the common area of the Suite. The slur was written while the Victim was away for the weekend, but was observed by the Victim and his parents upon his return to the Suite.
– Suspects 1, 3 and 4 wrote a note of “apology” to the Victim. The note contained a sarcastic reference to Martin Luther King and language that was perceived by the Victim and others as a veiled warning against further complaints by the Victim.
Williams attended high school in Santa Cruz and he never experienced racist behavior like it from others locally, even though he was only, "one of a handful black students at his high school in Santa Cruz," one media report has stated.
In November, the Santa Cruz Chapter of the NAACP released a statement about the hate crimes, which read in part:
"This incident is appalling. Where was the university leadership? It is understandable that SJSU cannot predetermine an admitted student’s "bigotry tendencies"; however, there is a responsibility at a public university that a tone of tolerance be clearly communicated throughout the fabric of the institution. This message should be communicated first by the SJSU President and, more importantly, throughout the campus even into the residential halls. It is obvious that those who committed these atrocities under the disguise of a "prank" against another human being felt embolden and undoubtedly empowered to do so without fear of University or legal consequences."
Williams' claim alleges violations of the Unruh Act. The Unruh Act, enacted in California in 1959, outlaws discrimination based on sex, race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, disability, medical condition, marital status, and sexual orientation, and it covers all businesses such as hotels, restaurants, theaters, hospitals, beauty shops, housing accommodations, and retail establishments.
Williams was 17 at the time the incidents occurred, and those who taunted him were all over 18. The perpetrators have been identified as three college freshmen from California: Colin Warren, 18, of Woodacre; Joseph Bomgardner, 19, of Clovis; and Logan Beaschler, 18, of Bakersfield.
Photo Credit: SJSU Students rally during "Black Monday" in November of 2013, by South Bay Activist http://www.facebook.com/vsphotoblog
To read the full independent report about the hate crimes committed against Donald Williams Jr., see:
SJSU Releases Hate Crime Report
To read the complete statement from the Santa Cruz NAACP, see:
San Jose State University Hate Crime Deplorable