The victim in a racially charged bullying case at San Jose State has filed a claim seeking $5 million from the university, alleging that a dormitory adviser ignored a "clear" warning sign that "a potentially explosive and dangerous situation was developing in Room 704."
The young black man, identified for the first time as Donald Williams Jr., plans to follow up with a lawsuit if the university rejects his claim, his attorney, Carl E. Douglas, said Thursday.
A spokeswoman for the college noted the university hadn't received the claim because it had been filed with the wrong agency. She said the school generally doesn't comment on pending claims.
In addition to being hit Thursday with the claim, San Jose State also came under criticism from a task force on racial discrimination that President Mo Qayoumi created earlier this year to critique the way it handled the bullying incident.
Williams, a 17-year-old freshman this past fall, says he was subjected to a litany of abuse by four of his white suite mates.
Among the allegations outlined in court documents, police reports and emails between members of the campus housing staff:
Williams was called "three-fifths," referring to the way the government once counted blacks as just a fraction of a person, and when he protested, they dubbed him "fraction."
The roommates outfitted the four-bedroom dormitory suite with a Confederate flag.
They locked Williams in his room.
They wrote the "N-word" on a dry-erase board in the living room.
They wrestled Williams to the ground and fastened a bicycle lock around his neck and told him they lost the keys.
Interviewed later by campus police, some of the roommates downplayed their actions as pranks. But Williams' claim alleges the university's failure to protect him from racial bullying constitutes breach of contract, negligence and a violation of the law requiring equal housing accommodations.
News that the freshman reported being tormented relentlessly for weeks at a college that prides itself on diversity sparked community outrage, an internal investigation, an apology from the president of SJSU and the creation of the task force.
Four of the students who lived in the dormitory suite with Williams now face misdemeanor hate-crime and battery charges. Those students, Logan Beaschler, 18, of Bakersfield; Joseph Bomgardner, 19, of Clovis; Colin Warren, 18, of Woodacre and an unidentified juvenile, have pleaded not guilty.
Until now, it appeared the housing staff knew only about the Confederate flag -- and merely counseled the student who tacked it up in his window where it was visible to students walking outside to take it down.
However, Williams' attorney maintains in the claim that resident adviser Charles May knew -- before the flag incident -- that a U-shaped bike lock had been clamped around Williams' neck, yet did little about it. May could not be reached for comment.
May met with Williams and his other suite mates on Sept. 23 to try to smooth out relations between the group, according to the claim.
At that meeting, Williams, each of the other six roommates and May himself all signed a "Roommate Living Agreement" that included the condition, "No bike lock of shame." Williams himself added that condition to the agreement, a sign of his plight, the claim implies.
"Despite this clear warning of deeper, more serious issues," Douglas wrote in his claim letter, the university failed to investigate. That led to several other "disturbing racial indignities" including that Williams was barricaded in his room by his abusers.
Douglas said in an interview Thursday the ordeal was particularly disturbing to Williams' family because his father is a theater professor at the University of California-Santa Cruz who believes strongly in the value of higher education.
"The president of San Jose State has said the university has failed this young man and it has," Douglas said. "Our hope is this claim sparks a conversation about racial bullying that is occurring not just at San Jose State but at UCLA, at the University of Michigan and other institutions of higher learning."
Some of the initial recommendations by the task force touch on elements in the claim. But the panel didn't know until midday Thursday that the bike-lock incident had been discussed with a resident adviser before the Confederate flag being displayed.
Even without that knowledge, LaDoris Cordell, the head of the task force as well as a former judge and current San Jose police auditor, recommended the university have two resident advisers instead of one for every 50 students and train them to recognize controversial or racially offensive symbols.
Cordell also faulted the university for waiting too long -- five weeks -- to discipline students accused of racially bullying Williams. She notes the black freshmen's parents reported their suspicions on Oct. 13, but the students weren't suspended until Nov. 20.
"The swiftness of action by the University in response to misconduct sends a message to the campus community that these behaviors are not tolerated," Cordell wrote. "When the response is a delayed one, the message is that the particular conduct is really not so bad."
Other proposed recommendations call for more diversity training of employees and students; a mobile app for reporting hate crimes; a more diverse faculty; better communication with the campus president; and further study of campus climate and the academic challenges of black and Latino male students, among other changes.
Contact Tracey Kaplan at 408-278-3482. Follow her at Twitter.com/tkaplanreport