California student files claim over racial abuse

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Associated Press

Posted on March 21, 2014 at 2:34 PM

Updated Friday, Mar 21 at 2:36 PM

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — A black student who says his suite mates at a California university put a bike lock around his neck and racially harassed him has filed a $5 million claim against the school.

Donald Williams says an adviser at his San Jose State University dormitory, Charles May, knew a lock had been fastened to his neck but did little about it, the San Jose Mercury News reported Thursday (http://bit.ly/1hOG9uw).

Four white students — Logan Beaschler and Colin Warren, both 18, Joseph Bomgardner, 19, and an unidentified juvenile — have pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor hate crime charges. They shared a suite with Williams and are accused of putting the bike lock on him, taunting him with racial slurs, barricading him in his room and putting up a Confederate flag.

Interviewed later by campus police, some of the roommates downplayed their actions as pranks.

University spokeswoman Pat Lopes Harris said the school does not comment on pending claims. Contact information for May could not immediately be found.

Williams' attorney, Carl Douglas, said his client plans to file a lawsuit against the school if the university rejects the claim.

"The president of San Jose State has said the university has failed this young man, and it has," Douglas told the Mercury News. "Our hope is this claim sparks a conversation about racial bullying that is occurring not just at San Jose State, but at UCLA, at the University of Michigan and other institutions of higher learning."

According to the claim, May met with Williams, a 17-year-old freshman this past fall, and his other suite mates on Sept. 23 to try to improve relations.

The claim says Williams, his roommates and May then signed a "Roommate Living Agreement" that included the condition "No bike lock of shame."

In his claim letter, Douglas wrote that the university failed to investigate "despite this clear warning of deeper, more serious issues." That led to other incidents, including the barricading, according to the claim.

In the wake of the incident, Assembly Speaker John Perez named a committee to investigate the racial and ethnic climate at California's public universities. The panel, chaired by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, a professor emeritus at San Diego State, was having its first public meeting Friday at San Jose State.

San Jose State also set up a task force to review Williams' case. The task force said Thursday the school waited too long to discipline the students accused of bullying Williams. It also made recommendations, including more diversity training for employees and students and a mobile app for reporting hate crimes.

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Information from: San Jose (Calif.) Mercury News, http://www.mercurynews.com

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