Police have accused a UC Berkeley student of beating up his roommate after he allegedly made homophobic remarks toward him.
Prosecutors are charging Joseph Michael Donner, 19, with felony battery in the February 18 incident. He’s expected to be arraigned and enter a plea Wednesday, March 5.
The alleged attack started at 11:50 p.m. as Donner and his roommate, also 19, were walking near the school’s Campbell Hall construction site on their way to Moffitt Library, according to a UC Berkeley Police Department summary.
The men had been having “some kid of disagreement” that “escalated,” Lieutenant Eric Tejada, a police spokesman, said in an interview.
Donner “made homophobic statements to the victim and demanded his cellphone,” police said, and when they got to Campbell Hall, Donner allegedly ordered his roommate “to go into the construction area.”
When the man refused, Donner started beating him, and “repeatedly punched, kicked, and choked” him, police said. Donner then ran away from the area, but police responded to his home and arrested him.
The Alameda County District Attorney’s office is charging Donner with battery with serious bodily injury, but the complaint doesn’t list any hate crime allegations.
Teresa Drenick, a spokeswoman for the agency, hasn’t responded to questions about why the case isn’t being charged as a hate crime.
[Updated Thursday, February 27]: Drenick called and said since it’s an active case, “I can’t get into the evidence,” but her agency’s charging standard is that for any count or enhancement, “We have to believe there is sufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt to the jury that that’s true.” [End update].
Assistant District Attorney Matt Foley, who said Thursday (February 27) that he’d just been assigned the case, didn’t know why it’s not being charged as a hate crime, and indicated he couldn’t comment on that even if he did know.
Tejada declined to share what exactly Donner had allegedly said, since “the investigation is ongoing.”
Elizabeth Grossman, Donner’s attorney, hasn’t responded to an interview request or to emailed questions. However, Grossman recently told the Oakland Tribune that Donner had “been having a ‘psychotic break’” and he would be hospitalized.
“It’s not remotely about a hate crime,” she told the paper.
The victim sustained injuries to his head and face, Tejada said. Donner beat up the other man “pretty good,” he said.
Tejada didn’t know what the original dispute had been about, or where the men had been coming from. The two are both UC Berkeley students and lived in Berkeley, off campus.
Tejada also didn’t know whether the victim is actually LGBT, but he noted someone can be accused of a hate crime regardless of the victim’s orientation.
There was at least one witness, Tejada said, and police still had other witnesses they wanted to talk to. There’s no video of the incident, he said.
Tejada called the alleged attack “kind of shocking,” and said hate crimes are “something we don’t normally see on our campus.”
Anyone with more information about the case may call the UC Berkley police at (510) 642-0472 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. or (510) 642-6760 outside those hours. The police report number is 14-00508.