(Reuters) - Three California university students accused of taunting their black roommate with racial slurs and references to slavery, once trying to clamp a bicycle lock on his neck, have been charged with hate crimes in an incident that has roiled the campus.
The three freshmen have also been suspended from San Jose State University, in Northern California east of the tech hub of Silicon Valley, where student protests erupted this week after the accusations came to light.
Logan Beaschler and Colin Warren, both 18, and Joseph Bomgardner, 19, have been charged with misdemeanor hate crime and battery, Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney Erin West said.
Beaschler has surrendered to authorities and Warren and Bomgardner were expected to do so this week, West said. Each could face a year in jail if convicted at trial.
“When I look at all of this together, there’s really no other conclusion but that it was motivated by hate,” she said. “Its hard to imagine in 2013 that a young black man could go to college and be subjected to this kind of torment.”
Beaschler, Warren and Bomgardner, who shared a dormitory suite on campus with their 17-year-old black roommate and four other students, are accused of heaping racial abuse on him for three months, beginning in August.
Authorities say they used racist terms to refer to the young man, displayed Nazi symbols and a Confederate flag in the suite and once attempted to put a U-shaped bicycle lock around his neck, causing him minor injuries when he fought back.
West said the alleged victim’s parents became aware of the situation when they dropped him off at school after a weekend at home and saw the Confederate flag, along with a racial slur written on a white board.
The parents called San Jose State housing administrators, who contacted university police.
“I think the truth of it is, he was scared,” West said of the alleged victim, whose name has not been released by authorities. “He was scared for his physical safety. He would lock his door at night and every time he came back into that suite he didn’t know what (to expect).”
It was not immediately clear if the defendants had retained criminal defense lawyers. West said that, in interviews with police, they had described the incidents as pranks.
“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,” University President Mohammad Qayoumi said in a statement issued on Thursday as students held a protest march and rally on campus grounds.
“We are deeply disturbed by the horrific behaviors that have taken place against our son,” the family of the alleged victim, who is now 18, said in a written statement released to the San Jose Mercury News. “Our immediate focus is his protection.”
Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Sharon Bernstein and Gunna Dickson