The boy charged with setting fire to a gender non-conforming Oakland teen appeared in Alameda County Superior Court Tuesday (November 26) as his attorney worked to have him charged as a juvenile.
Richard Allen Thomas, 16, allegedly used a lighter to set fire to the skirt of Luke Sasha Fleischman, 18, as Fleischman slept on an AC Transit bus November 4. Fleischman, who’s also of Oakland, has been in the hospital recovering from serious burns.
Prosecutors have charged Thomas with aggravated mayhem and assault resulting in serious bodily injury. Both counts carry a hate crime enhancement. If convicted, he could face life in prison.
Thomas hasn’t entered a plea. He’s been charged as an adult, but William Du Bois, Thomas’s attorney, filed a motion Tuesday for his client to be charged as a juvenile. That motion is set to be heard December 20. During Tuesday’s hearing, Thomas, who was wearing a blue shirt that designated him as a juvenile, didn’t address the court directly but briefly conferred with Du Bois.
Before Tuesday’s hearing, Du Bois said he’d just received video footage from the bus, along with Thomas’s recorded statement to police. He hasn’t yet reviewed the materials, but he said his understanding is that the bus footage is “fairly self-explanatory.”
Du Bois hasn’t disputed that Thomas set fire to Fleischman but has said, “As far as I can tell,” the incident “was the result of a juvenile prank that went horribly wrong.” He’s also said members of Thomas’s family are gay and “he doesn’t have a homophobic bone in his body.”
Thomas “seems to be holding up pretty well” and “getting the attention needs” in custody, said Du Bois Tuesday. Several members of Thomas’s family attended Tuesday’s hearing but declined to speak with reporters.
A good Samaritan who put out the flames on Fleischman recently said, “I have no idea” who started the blaze. “I just saw someone on fire who needed help.”
Since Thomas is a juvenile, Du Bois said that even he doesn’t have access to any previous criminal records the boy may have.
A staff member at Oakland High School, which Thomas had been attending at the time of the incident, has said in an email that Thomas “was only a student at our school this year, and his attendance was terrible during that short time. … He’s been to several schools in the [district] in the last few years.”
Du Bois said Tuesday that it was “exaggerated” to say that Thomas had missed a lot of school. He said Thomas has “had some educational challenges,” and “difficulty learning, but nothing of a debilitating nature.” He didn’t yet know whether his client had had any diagnoses.
Sasha Fleischman prefers “they,” “them,” and “their,” when people refer to them in the third person, according to Karl Fleischman, their father.
People wishing to make donations to assist Fleischman may go to https://fundly.com/helping-sasha-fleischman-have-a-speedy-recovery.