A day after supporters raised $20,000 to fund surgeries for Sasha Fleischman, the high school senior who was set on fire while sleeping aboard an AC Transit bus, prosecutors have decided to charge the suspect with a hate crime.
Richard Thomas, an Oakland High School student, allegedly boarded the number 57 bus at around 5:20 p.m. Monday when he saw Fleischman asleep in the back, and set fire to Fleischman's skirt. He initially fled the scene but was apprehended Tuesday after police reviewed surveillance video from the bus, according to police. According to a court complaint, Thomas told officers that he started the fire because he is homophobic.
Fleischman, who attends Maybeck High School in Berkeley, identifies as agender, meaning he doesn't see himself as male or female -- and prefers the pronoun "they." (Since his mother, Debbie Fleischman, describes him in male pronouns, SF Weekly and other media outlets have chosen to do the same.) He frequently wears skirts as a political statement, and has established himself as a public advocate for the nonbinary gender community. In March, he helped circulate a petition encouraging President Obama to include the nonbinary category in legal documents.
Thomas faces two felony charges of assault and aggravated mayhem, each with a hate crime enhancement. That could result in life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. He was arrested at Oakland High School on Tuesday and arraigned at 2 p.m. this afternoon.
"Richard Thomas' violent and senseless criminal conduct resulted in severe and traumatic injuries to a young and entirely innocent victim," Alameda County District Attorney says in a press statement. "The intentional and callous nature of the crime is shocking and will not be tolerated in our community. 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."
Fleischman is in stable condition but will have to undergo multiple skin grafting surgeries to cure the second- and third-degree burns on his legs. He may face a long recovery.
We've attached the criminal complaint against Thomas here: