University President Says He Failed to Protect Student in Hate Crime Case

PHOTO: Champagne Ellison, left, a senior at San Jose State University, marches, Nov. 21, 2013 in a protest over reported racial hazing of an African-American freshman by his dormitory roommates. Karl Mondon/The Mercury News/AP Photo
Champagne Ellison, left, a senior at San Jose State University, marches, Nov. 21, 2013 in a protest over reported racial hazing of an African-American freshman by his dormitory roommates.

The president of San Jose State University took responsibility today for failing to protect a black freshman who was allegedly subjected to racially charged torment by four white roommates.

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University President Mohammad Qayoumi said that by failing to "intervene earlier to stop the abuse, or impose sanctions as soon as the gravity of the behavior became clear, we failed him. I failed him."

From August until October, prosecutors allege several freshmen at San Jose State University in California taunted their black suitemate with racial epithets, Nazi imagery and on one occasion, clamped a U-shaped bicycle lock around his neck.

"How such abuse could have gone unchecked or undetected for weeks is being methodically untangled, as it must," Qayoumi said. "An independent expert will soon be named to lead a task force that will examine the facts, our policies and practices, and propose reforms."

NAACP leaders are pushing the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office to upgrade the charges against the white students, including one who is under 18, to felonies.

Misdemeanor battery and hate crime charges were filed against the four students last week. They have also been suspended from school.

Victim Was Physically Afraid of Roommates

The alleged victim was described by a prosecutor as a "mild-mannered, sweet kid" who was physically afraid of his roommates and what they would do if he reported the abuse.

The victim "really wanted to just get along. I think he hoped this would go away, and I think another big part of it was he was physically scared of them," Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney Erin West told

The victim's name has not been released to protect his identity.

"There were mean tricks played on him -- barricading him in his bedroom and putting their hands on him to put this bike lock around his neck," West said. "It seems clear the motivation for that battery was motivated by hate."

Instead of calling the victim by his name, West said the suspects called him "Three-Fifths," a reference to the fraction used more than a century ago to count slaves for the purpose of congressional representation in the U.S. Census.

When the victim objected, West said they changed the cruel nickname to "Fraction."

As the semester progressed, West said the teen spent less time in his suite and instead went home on the weekends to escape the alleged torment.

His parents took him back to the residence hall one weekend in October and saw why.

"They saw the N-word written on a dry erase board in his suite and saw the confederate flag," West said.

The parents immediately filed a report with college officials.

San Jose State University spokeswoman Pat Harris told that an investigation was launched the same day housing staff was made aware of the allegations.

Two suspects were relocated to single rooms elsewhere on campus, while a third suspect, who was initially believed to be a bystander, was removed from the suite on Thursday when he was identified as an offender, Harris said. It was unclear why the fourth student remained in the suite until the end of last week.

Qayoumi said the school should have acted faster to stop the alleged abuse.

"Some anger is being directed toward residence hall advisers (RAs) for failing to recognize or act on warning signs of abuse. It is our job as professional educators to help them recognize these signs. Their failures are our failures," he said. "We must do a better job of training them, and we will."