SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - The last of a group of California university students accused of racial hazing of a roommate pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor hate crime and battery charges on Wednesday in a case that has prompted campus protests and outrage from civil rights leaders.
Colin Warren, 18, is one of four white San Jose State University students accused of harassing an African-American roommate last fall with racist remarks and an attempt to clasp a bicycle lock around his neck.
Each of the accused students has been suspended, pending a review of the incident that could lead to permanent expulsion, San Jose State University spokeswoman Pat Harris said.
Warren was arraigned at the Santa Clara Superior Court in San Jose, Santa Clara County District Attorney spokesman Sean Webby said. He is expected to join cases with Joseph Bomgardner, 19, and Logan Beaschler, 18, both of whom pleaded not guilty to the same charges in recent weeks, Webby added.
Authorities said the young men displayed Nazi imagery and a Confederate flag in their dormitory suite allegedly to taunt their then-17-year-old roommate, who was also left with minor injuries in the struggle to keep from having a U-shaped bicycle lock placed around his neck.
The victim’s parents complained to the university in November after visiting the dormitory and reportedly seeing a racial slur written on a dry-erase board, Harris said.
When reports of the incidents came to light, students staged campus protests. A leader with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People called for the accused boys to be charged with felony crimes.
A lawyer for Beaschler, Charles Mesirow, has said the students had pulled “stupid pranks” that were insensitive but not “motivated by any racist bias.”
Calls to Warren’s lawyer were not immediately returned on Wednesday. The case details for a fourth defendant have not been disclosed because he is a minor.
California Assembly speaker John Perez, responding to the San Jose case, this month announced formation a special committee to review California university and college policies for handling student reports of harassment and hate crimes.
“It’s clear from this particularly disturbing incident - one that harkens back to uglier times in our nation’s history - that we still have a lot of work to do to ensure California’s college campuses are safe and welcoming educational environments for every student,” Assembly member Shirley Weber, who will head the committee, said in a statement this month.
A team appointed by university president Mohammad Qayoumi to investigate the allegations is scheduled to publish a report on its findings on January 31.
Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Gunna Dickson