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California student charged with hate crime enters not-guilty plea

By Laila Kearney

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A man accused of orchestrating the racial bullying of his black roommate at a California university, spurring campus protests and outrage from civil rights leaders, pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor hate crime and battery charges on Monday, officials said.

Logan Beaschler, 18, is among a group of white students at San Jose State University accused of taunting their African-American roommate with racial slurs and attempting to hang a bicycle lock around his neck last fall.

All four students suspected of involvement in the taunting have been suspended from the university, in Northern California east of the tech hub of Silicon Valley, where student protests erupted in November after the accusations came to light.

Beaschler's lawyer Charles Mesirow described his client, who faces up to a year in county jail if convicted on the charges, as a "nerdy" engineering honor student who had played "insensitive pranks" on his roommate but was not a racist.

"Kids with too much time on their hands will do stupid things," he said.

Beaschler was arraigned at the Santa Clara County Superior Court in San Jose, where a request to release him on $15,000 bail was denied, according to his lawyer.

Joseph Bomgardner, 19, and Colin Warren, 18, also face misdemeanor hate crime and battery charges in the case, Santa Clara District Attorney's Office spokesman Sean Webby said. They are scheduled to be arraigned later this month, he added.

Local media reported that another student, who has remained unidentified because he is a juvenile, faces the same charges.

Authorities said the young men displayed Nazi symbols and a Confederate flag in their dormitory suite as a way of tormenting the then-17-year-old victim, who was also left with minor injuries from struggling against the group as they tried to force a U-shaped bicycle lock around his neck.

The victim's parents complained to the university in November after visiting their son at his dorm and learning of the harassment, San Jose State University spokeswoman Pat Harris said.

Student protests were held at the school after reports of the incidents surfaced and a leader with National Association for the Advancement of Colored People called for the accused boys to be charged with felony crimes.

University president Mohammad Qayoumi stated publicly in November that he and other school officials had "failed" the black student and could have done more to protect him. The university is conducting an investigation into the allegations, Harris said.

(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Eric Walsh)

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