It took more than a month for the president of San Jose State University to learn of an incident alleging racial harassment of a student, which eventually resulted in the arrest of four students on hate crime and battery charges.
This afternoon, the university released a fact-finding review of racist hate crimes reported from a campus apartment last semester. The 52-page audit set out to determine at what point the school became aware of the abuse, what steps it took to fix the situation and whether campus policies allowed the bullying to go unnoticed. San Jose’s Independent Police Auditor LaDoris Cordell will use this report to come up with recommendations to prevent similar abuse from happening again.
Campus staff became aware of the problems in mid-October, about two months after students allegedly began to harass a then-17-year-old African American engineering student. The victim asked friends to keep quiet about the incidents. He was aware of university resources to report the abuse, but tried to handle the situation alone.
The university’s president, Mohammad Qayoumi, didn’t find out about the severity of the problem until the day before the District Attorney publicly announced that it would level misdemeanor charges against three adult students—Logan Beaschler, Colin Warren and Joseph Bomgardner—and one minor. The criminal complaint alleges that the students restrained the victim by twice clamping a bike lock around his neck, writing the word “Nigger” on a white board, calling him “Three-Fifths” and “Fraction” in reference to when the U.S. government used to consider African Americans a fraction of a person and hanging a Confederate flag in the common area.
The story quickly became national news. The NAACP called for felony charges and demanded Qayoumi to expel the students. The students are suspended pending the criminal case and are due in court together March 4.
“The president and the Chief of Staff believe that the matter should have been brought to the attention of the cabinet or reported in greater detail to the president,” Myron D. Moye, an attorney who specializes in discrimination cases, wrote in the report. “Their concern is that because of the lack of earlier notice the university was not in a position to respond timely to the incident or to take the steps senior leadership would have deemed appropriate to the circumstances and would have taken if notified.”
Minutes before leaving a football game for the airport on Oct. 26, someone told Qayoumi that a hate crime was under investigation and that they would update him later. Three days later, campus police determined that the issue merited judicial action, but no one reported back to Qayoumi or his chief of staff that the situation had escalated to a serious criminal investigation.
Though campus staff failed to communicate the problem to the executive level early on, part of the reason the harassment went unchecked for the first part of the semester was because the victim tried to take care of the problem by himself, the report notes.
Residential assistants were alerted to some prank wars, like students stealing the victim’s shoes and hiding them in a closet, but weren’t told about the severity of the problem. In meetings with students, they say they didn’t notice any behavior that indicated there was a bigger problem. It wasn’t until Oct. 15, when the victim’s parents, dropping him off after a visit home in Santa Cruz, spotted the racial slur on the whiteboard that campus staff learned that some of the pranks might be racially motivated.
The victim declined to participate in the fact-finding review partly because of the pending criminal case and partly because his family is trying to maintain some semblance of privacy through the ordeal. Three of the four suspects opted out of participating, too, so the report relies on earlier interviews with campus police.
In a talk with police, the victim says the abuse began unprovoked back in August. He was talking with one of the suspects—the minor whose name was withheld—when Beaschler and Warren came up behind him and fastened the lock around his neck.
“He recalled struggling as all three … held his arms to get the lock around his neck,” police say. The lock was tight, but he was able to move around to find the key. The suspects were laughing and saying it was a good joke, the victim recalls.
“Don’t let this happen again,” the victim told them, adding that he didn’t think it was funny.
About a week later, the suspects again sneaked up on the victim, who was in a neighbor’s dorm room studying. Laughing, they held him down to try to clamp the lock on his neck. The victim, a wrestler, dropped one to the ground with a leg sweep and ran down the hall where another student intervened. Other students saw the scuffle but did nothing to stop it.
Beaschler told police that he got the idea for the bike lock around the neck from an episode of the Comedy Central TV show “Workaholics.”
Remarkably, most of the students interviewed by campus police during the investigation didn’t think the pranks were racist. Even the victim dismissed the series of events as “a prank war gone extreme,” although he admitted he felt singled out as the only African American in the dorm suite, and that the bike chain was used to symbolize “putting chains and locks on the black kid.”
A half-white, half-Korean student from a neighboring dorm suite, whose first name was redacted in police reports, says the pranks were part of the students’ “dark humor” and that “she understands it looks very bad, especially to the victim’s parents because ‘it’s mostly, like, white kids, like, pranking this, like, black kid.’ [She] said she grew up in the era where it (prejudice) doesn’t seem present to us, it’s just in the books. It doesn’t seem like a big deal for us to do things like this.’”
In October, when a residential assistant was showing a campus officer around the seventh-story dorm suite, the pair noticed lots of Nazi-themed décor around Beaschler’s living space in particular. They saw a paper above his bed with the “SS” lightning bolts and a pet beta fish named “Das Booten Fisch,” so named, Beaschler says, because it originally lived in a glass boot. There was also a Christian college poster with a markered-on swastika, a Confederate flag design on his desk, a picture of a skeleton soldier by the words, “The South Will Rise Again.”
“He said the ‘SS’ lightning bolts on that paper and the Eastern University poster, along with the drawn swastika, were all part of a ‘satire’ that he thought would be funny,” writes campus Officer E. Wong in his report. “When I told him that I did not understand the humor, Beaschler did not have an explanation.”
Beaschler says he put up the Confederate flag facing outside to “ruffle peoples’ feathers.”
Campus staffers told him to take it down after students began complaining about it on the Facebook page “SJSU Confessions.” He wound up bringing it into the dorm suite’s common area, draping it over a cardboard cutout of Elvis Presley.
In another incident, the victim’s roommates took all his shoes and left a profanity-riddled note directing him to go on a scavenger hunt to retrieve them.
“If you wish to find your shoes
you must find the several clues
Must ponder das boot
unless the Germans shout shoot
For that is the faggot’s fate
In the enrichment center you must wait
Eat shit and die
blah blah blah pie”
Police say Beaschler put up a sign marking the closet as the “Enrichment Center.” The poem and several other notes led the victim to the closet, where the roommates allegedly locked him in and took out the door knob.
It wasn’t until Oct. 13 that any of the above were reported to campus staff, the just-released audit states. The student showed no outward signs of abuse. The report says that once the campus found out about the harassment, they took action to address it, even overriding the victim’s wishes that they drop any legal action against his roommates.