The Alameda County District Attorney’s Office charged a 16-year-old with aggravated mayhem and felony assault Thursday for allegedly setting fire to the skirt of a teen who identifies as agender on a bus in Oakland.
On Monday, Luke “Sasha” Fleischman’s skirt was allegedly set on fire by Richard Thomas, an Oakland High School student, while Fleischman, an 18-year-old who attends Maybeck High School in Berkeley, slept on an AC Transit bus. Fleischman is recovering at Saint Francis Memorial Hospital in San Francisco after undergoing surgery Wednesday.
“I feel like there’s nothing I can do,” said Tara Roach, Fleischman’s cousin and a graduate student in the College of Natural Resources at UC Berkeley. “In this day and age in Oakland, California, that someone thinks they can do something like that baffles me.”
The incident occurred about 5:15 p.m. Monday, according to AC Transit spokesperson Clarence Johnson. Slightly more than a dozen people were on the bus, which was at MacArthur Boulevard and Ardley Avenue at the time. Johnson said the operator of the bus immediately called for emergency assistance, stopped the vehicle and went to the rear to see whether he could aid the person who was on fire.
After the incident, the suspect left and got on another bus, Johnson said. Using surveillance footage, Oakland police officers identified the suspect and took him into custody the next day.
According to a court document, the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office has charged Thomas as an adult and is treating both counts as hate crimes. Anwawn Jones, an Oakland police officer, wrote in a court affidavit that Thomas stated during the suspect interview that “he did it because he was homophobic.”
“The intentional and callous nature of the crime is shocking and will not be tolerated in our community,” said Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley in a press release. “Our thoughts remain with the victim and the victim’s family in wishing for a full recovery from the extensive burns suffered as a result of this crime.”
Thomas did not enter a plea during his arraignment at 2 p.m. Thursday at the Wiley W. Manuel Courthouse in Oakland, according to the Associated Press. He is due back in court Tuesday.
On Monday, Fleischman’s cousin Joshua Allan started an online campaign to collect donations for Fleischman’s surgery. Donations reached a total of $21,250, exceeding the family’s goal of $20,000 and allowing them to pay for the surgery.
“I hope it raises awareness about the issue,” Roach said.
More than 500 people have given their support for the agender teen on the fundraising page, and more than 300 have commented with words of encouragement.