Three men have been convicted of hate crimes stemming from charges of verbally and physically abusing a UC Davis student last year.
Lonny Lee Jr., 26, Jake Lee, 23, and Justin Sheppard, 24, pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges of use of force to commit a hate crime, battery and disturbing the peace, according to the Yolo County District Attorney’s Office.
Each was placed on three years of probation during which they must stay away from UC Davis, complete anger management courses, perform 40 hours of community service benefiting underserved groups, complete 20 hours of course work on African American history, pay $450 and have no contact with the victim other than a one-page apology letter.
The men also will be required to attend 12 Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and be tested for sobriety over the next three years. Though they were not charged with any alcohol-related offenses, the men, who live in West Sacramento and Rocklin, were attending a party at UC Davis the night of the crime, Yolo County Deputy District Attorney Jonathan Raven noted.
At 3:20 a.m. on Feb. 15, 2016, the three men reportedly shouted racial epithets at a 21-year-old African American student as she exited a car at West Village Apartments. Two men later identified as Lonny Lee Jr. and Sheppard also threw leftover Valentine’s Day candies at the woman, striking her in the neck and face. A fourth man was present but was not charged.
Though the woman initially thought she was being pelted with rocks, she was not physically hurt. The Lee brothers and Sheppard would likely have not been charged with hate crimes had they not thrown the candy, Raven said, given that hate speech without action is often protected under the First Amendment.
“The reason why (hate crimes) are treated more seriously than other crimes ... is because they’re crimes that are focused on a group of people, not on an individual,” Raven said. “Generally when you have a simple battery case it’s just one person causing injury to another, but when it’s a hate crime you’re victimizing a whole community.”
The incident sparked a 200-person rally by activists using the hashtag “#BlackUnderAttack,” who later issued a list of demands to then-Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi. Among the demands were more emergency call boxes, improved street lighting and more nighttime transportation options for students, all of which Katehi agreed to in a public letter.
The Lees and Sheppard were not UC Davis students.