Hate Crime charges for suspect charged in arson attack on sleeping Bay Area 'agender-transgender' teen
|Luke 'Sasha' Fleischman * Family Photo|
Staff Reports * OAKLAND -- The office of Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley confirmed to LGBTQ Nation Friday that a 16-year-old teen-aged boy accused of setting fire to a agender-transgender teen’s skirt this past week, as the victim slept on a city bus, has been charged as an adult.
A spokesperson for the District Attorney said that Richard Thomas, was charged Thursday in a criminal complaint in adult court with aggravated mayhem, felony assault and a hate-crime “enhancement” after telling investigators that he committed Monday’s attack “because he was homophobic."
“The intentional and callous nature of the crime is shocking and will not be tolerated in our community,” Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley said in a statement.
Oakland Police spokeswoman Officer Johnna Watson told LGBTQ Nation that police arrested Thomas at Oakland High School, where he is a student, Tuesday after examining surveillance video from the AC Transit city bus that showed him setting the victim’s skirt on fire.
The victim, 18 year old Luke Fleischman who also goes by the name Sasha- remained hospitalized in San Francisco Thursday, and was listed in stable condition suffering from second- and third-degree burns on his legs, a St Francis Memorial Hospital spokeswoman said.
Fleischman's mother, Debbie Fleischman, told Bay Area media outlets that that her son will require massive skin grafting. She also said she is torn about whether the fire was a prank, or if her son was targeted because he was wearing a skirt.
She added that her son, a senior at Maybeck High School in the neighboring city of Berkeley, does not identify as male or female but as nonbinary, an umbrella term covering all other gender identity.
"My son considers himself agender," Debbie Fleischman told reporters, "He likes to wear a skirt. It's his statement. That's how he feels comfortable dressing."
Fleischman said her son has been riding the bus home from school, oftentimes wearing a skirt, for the past year and has had no problems or threats. She said her son told her and his father about two years ago that he did not want to identify as a man or a woman.
On Thursday, California Superior Court Judge Gregory Syren, ordered Thomas to remain in custody without bail. Thomas had told the court that his relatives were trying to hire a lawyer to represent him in his defence. A woman who identified herself as the suspect’s grandmother in the courtroom pleaded with Judge Syren for more time to find an attorney. Syren postponed proceedings for entering of a plea until next Tuesday to give the family time to obtain counsel.
Outside the courtroom, Thomas’s mother, who gave her name only as Ms. Jackson, denied that her son was homophobic or that he meant to hurt anyone.
“My son is not a hateful person,” she said. “He’s not homophobic. He was joking, and he didn’t know it would go that far.”
“I am very sorry, very sorry for my son’s actions,” Jackson told reporters, adding that her son, too, was remorseful and was drafting a letter of apology to the burn victim. “I did not raise him that way.”
A crowd fundraising page for Fleischman was set up Tuesday by family members in an effort to raise $10,000 toward his medical bills and by Friday more than 500 supporters had donated over $21,000 towards Fleischman's medical bills.
Numerous students at the high school Fleischman attends showed up on campus Friday wearing skirts to honor the teen.