16-year-old pleads not guilty in assault of agender teen

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A 16-year-old accused of setting the skirt of an agender teen on fire in November pleaded not guilty last week to charges of aggravated mayhem and assault resulting in serious bodily injury.

Sasha Fleischman, an 18-year-old teen who attends Maybeck High School in Berkeley, was sleeping on an AC Transit bus when Richard Thomas of Oakland High School allegedly set Fleischman’s skirt on fire.

Thomas, who is currently held without bail, is set to be tried as an adult beginning with a pretrial hearing Feb. 19 at Wiley W. Manuel Courthouse in downtown Oakland.

UC Santa Barbara freshman Sam Goff, who has known Fleischman since the two were toddlers, said Fleischman is doing well these days in the wake of the incident.

“Sasha’s outlook is quite amazing,” Goff said. “(Fleischman) is being the bigger person in all this.”

In the late afternoon of Nov. 4, Thomas allegedly set Fleischman’s skirt on fire. Slightly more than a dozen people were on the bus at the time, which was at MacArthur Boulevard and Ardley Avenue in Oakland.

Fleischman suffered extensive burns, according to a November press release from the Alameda County District Attorney’s office. Oakland police officers later used surveillance footage to identify Thomas as a possible suspect and arrested him the following day.

“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 the press release.

The charges Thomas faces are described by the district attorney’s office as hate crimes. A court affidavit from an Oakland police officer stated that during the suspect interview Thomas said “he did it because he was homophobic.”

Kimberly Veklerov is the lead crime reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @KVeklerov.