CNN) — Three San Jose State University students in California have been charged with racially bullying their black roommate by clamping a bicycle lock around his neck and decorating their four-bedroom suite with a Confederate flag, Nazi symbols, photos of Adolf Hitler and a white board with a racial epithet, prosecutors said Thursday.
The three students — Logan Beaschler, 18, of Bakersfield; Joseph Bomgardner, 19, of Clovis; and Colin Warren, 18, of Woodacre — are charged with misdemeanor hate crime and battery, the Santa Clara district attorney’s office said.
Neither the three students nor their attorneys could be immediately reached for comment.
Beaschler was booked in the Santa Clara County Jail on Thursday, with bail set at $15,000.
White students charged with hate crime
The defendants face a maximum sentence of one year in county jail if convicted, prosecutors said.
The 17-year-old roommate who was the alleged victim wasn’t named by prosecutors. He suffered a minor injury when he fought off the bike lock around his neck, prosecutors said.
“I can’t believe in the year 2013 that we’re talking about an African-American student being treated this way,” District Attorney Jeffrey F. Rosen told CNN. “We’re taking this case very seriously.”
The defendants are accused of nicknaming their black roommate “Three-Fifths,” an apparent reference to a U.S. constitutional provision that counted slaves as “three-fifths of all other persons,” prosecutors said.
When the African-American student objected to that name, the three roommates in the campus housing began calling him “Fraction,” the prosecutor’s office said.
The alleged harassment began in August and lasted through October, prosecutors said.
San Jose State’s president, Mohammad Qayoumi, said in a letter to the student body Thursday that the three students have been suspended.
“Let me be clear: I am outraged and saddened by these allegations. They are utterly inconsistent with our long cherished history of tolerance, respect for diversity and personal civility,” Qayoumi’s letter said.
Members of the alleged victim’s family released a statement saying they were “deeply disturbed by the horrific behaviors that have taken place against our son.”
“Our immediate focus is his protection,” the family said. “We have taken a stand on this matter. Our response prompted the community to be alerted of the appalling conduct of the students involved.”
A total of eight men were living in the four-bedroom suite, but the remaining four students turned their back on the racial harassment, the prosecutor said.
“The other four were aware of this (but) … did not stand up” and allowed the harassment, Rosen said.
Parents saw the Confederate flag in the dorm suite and “the N-word scrawled on a white board,” Rosen said.
At least one of the defendants tried to downplay the harassment, and the three defendants then wrote a note to the African-American roommate, asking him to join their group, Rosen said.
But the black roommate objected to the harassment and sometimes “barricaded” himself in his room, Rosen said.
“The young man in this case was terrorized. It was difficult for him to study,” Rosen said. “He told them not to do this to him.”
Qayoumi said the university police immediately began investigating the allegations “the day our housing staff learned of the situation.”
The same day the investigation began, two of the roommates were moved to other residence halls and placed in single rooms.
“A third suite-mate, originally believed to be a bystander, was identified yesterday as an offender. We regret he was not removed from the victim’s suite before today,” Qayoumi said.