Prosecutors filed hate-crime charges against a 16-year-old boy Thursday, saying he set aflame the skirt of a teenage gender-identity activist while the victim was asleep on a bus in Oakland, then admitted to police that he had started the fire because he was “homophobic.”
Richard Thomas of Oakland was charged as an adult with aggravated mayhem, assault and hate-crime enhancements in connection with Monday’s attack on Luke Fleischman, 18, whose legs were severely burned.
After Thomas made a brief afternoon appearance in an Oakland courtroom, where he did not enter a plea, his mother apologized and expressed sympathy for Fleischman. She said her son regretted his actions and wanted to write an apology letter to Fleischman.
“My son is not a hateful person,” said Thomas’ mother, who would identify herself only as Ms. Jackson. “He’s not homophobic. He’s a kid. Kids joke around. I think he will learn his lesson. He’s very remorseful. I’m sorry for it.”
Fleischman, an Oakland resident who attends Maybeck High School in Berkeley, goes by the name Sasha. The teenager was born male but has declined in the past to identify as male or female, instead preferring the term “genderqueer.”
Fleischman has sought legal recognition for “non-binary” gender, and launched an online petition hoping to draw President Obama’s attention to the issue.
The high schooler was being treated Thursday at St. Francis Memorial Hospital in San Francisco, which specializes in treating burns. A relative said a series of surgeries on second- and third-degree burns began Wednesday.
“Richard Thomas’ violent and senseless criminal conduct resulted in severe and traumatic injuries to a young and entirely innocent victim,” Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley said after her office filed the charges. “The intentional and callous nature of the crime is shocking and will not be tolerated in our community.”
Thomas used a lighter to set the sleeping victim’s skirt on fire, authorities said. At the time, the AC Transit bus was on MacArthur Boulevard near Ardley Avenue, just blocks from Fleischman’s home in Oakland’s Glenview neighborhood.
Thomas, a junior at nearby Oakland High School, was identified with the help of witnesses and video surveillance, police said. After he was picked up, he told police “he did it because he was homophobic,” Oakland police Officer Anwawn Jones wrote in a court affidavit.
Thomas was being held Thursday without bail at the Juvenile Justice Center in San Leandro.
Henry K. Lee is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @henryklee