Donald Williams Jr. accuses the school of negligence and failing to provide fair housing accommodations during 2013 fall semester. Williams, who was 17 at the time of the alleged attacks and living in an on-campus suite with other engineering students, says he endured ongoing physical and verbal racial harassment for the first several weeks of the semester. Police pinpoint the abuse between August to October. Williams’ parents finally informed campus cops when they visited and saw a racial slur scrawled on a white board in the common area.
Prosecutors claim Williams’ four white dorm-mates twice fastened a bike lock around his neck, called him “Fraction” to imply that he’s less of a person because of his race, locked him in a closet and decorated the seventh-story apartment with a Confederate flag and swastikas. Those four white students—Logan Beaschler, Colin Warren, Joseph Bomgardner and an unnamed minor—face misdemeanor charges of hate crime and battery.
An independent review of events leading up to their arrests in November cleared the university of any misstep, arguing that it followed its own rules and acted when it learned of the incidents. But a task force looking into the case noted that a resident advisor, Charles May, ignored obvious signs of a problem.
A report released in January showed that Williams and his roommates met on Sept. 23 to try to work out some conflicts. In a “Roommate Living Agreement,” Williams had signed his name next to a line that stated, “No bike lock of shame.” That should have tipped off the people in charge that something wasn’t right, the task force argued last month. The recent claim reiterates that point.
Calls to Williams’ attorney Carl E. Douglas were not immediately returned, though staff at his Beverly Hills office said the victim will file a lawsuit if the school dismisses his $5 million claim. Douglas, known for his work as a defense lawyer in the O.J. Simpson murder trial, specializes in police misconduct cases.
The claim comes on the same day the hate crime task force released a list of tentative recommendations about how to prevent similar incidents from happening ever again. LaDoris Cordell, a retired judge and San Jose’s independent police auditor, wrote in the report that the school took too long to respond to allegations of abuse.
“The swiftness of action by the university in response to misconduct sends a message to the campus community that these behaviors are not tolerated,” she wrote in the proposal up for discussion at another task force meeting Thursday evening. “When the response is a delayed on, the message is that the particular conduct is really not so bad. If the university’s responses to cheating, to underage drinking, to illicit drug use are immediate and clear, then the university’s response to bias-based misconduct must be equally immediate and clear.”
Williams’ parents reported the harassment on Oct. 13, but the school waited another five weeks to suspend the suspects. For whatever reason, university president Mohammad Qayoumi says he never learned of the alleged hate crimes until days before the case blew up into a national story.
Other recommendations call for more diversity training, a mobile app to report hate crimes, routine studies of campus climate and a faculty that better reflects the diversity of the student body.
The suspects in the case appear before a Santa Clara County Superior Court judge for a pretrial hearing April 29.
UPDATE: SJSU spokeswoman Pat Harris said that the claim was filed with the wrong agency and that the school would notify the family of the mistake.