A Florida man accused of using his truck to deface a rainbow crosswalk in Delray Beach that was painted to celebrate Pride Month will not face bias enhancements under the state’s hate crimes law, prosecutors announced last Thursday.
Alexander Jerich, 20, appeared in court last week on charges of criminal mischief and reckless driving with property damage for allegedly defacing the intersection.
Investigators said Jerich was driving his pickup truck to a rally to celebrate the birthday of former President Trump on June 14, when he decided to use the truck to do a “burnout” at the intersection where the Pride flag colors had been painted.
A witness captured video of Jerich’s car swerving through the intersection and repeatedly using its tires to mark up the painting. That video later went viral. (Watch here.)
When he was initially arrested, the Delray Beach Police Department added a hate crime enhancement to the charge of criminal mischief, for allegedly targeting the LGBTQ community. But Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg said that the law does not allow Jerich to be charged with a hate crime enhancement, reports CBS affiliate WPEC.
“The facts of this case…indicate that the defendant was motivated by prejudice, including a witness who heard someone scream to the defendant to ‘tear up that gay intersection,'” Aronberg said in a statement.
“We were, however, unable to apply Florida’s hate crime enhancement statute because the law requires that the defendant select a specific victim based on sexual orientation. Since the Pride streetscape is the property of the City of Delray Beach, the city is the named victim. Since a city has no sexual orientation, the state’s hate crime enhancement law cannot apply.”
Aronberg continued: “Make no mistake, we are all appalled by the defendant’s actions. Hate has no place in our community and we intend to hold the defendant accountable for his crimes. Any punishment must also include restitution that will pay for the Pride streetscape to be fully restored to its original form.
“As much we are outraged by the defendant’s conduct, our job as prosecutors is to uphold the rule of law, regardless of politics or our personal feelings. By charging this defendant with these two crimes here today, we are fulfilling our mission to do justice based on the facts and the law.”
Prosecutors also declined to charge Jerich under Florida’s new Combatting Public Disorder Act, an anti-riot law that is used to prosecute people who engage in destruction of property, among other provisions.
The Palm Beach County Human Rights Commission issued a statement expressing disappointment in Aronberg for not pursuing bias enhancements.
“Although I was not surprised that State Attorney Dave Aronberg shied away from charging Alexander Jerich under the new Combatting Public Disorder Act, I was shocked that he refused to seek enhanced penalties under Florida’s hate crimes law,” Palm Beach County Human Rights Commission President Rand Hoch said in a statement.
“Here, the ‘victim’ is a the Delray Beach LGBTQ Pride Streetscape, which was installed to recall and celebrate the achievements of the LGBTQ community — a protected class. Jerich did not pick a random place to commit this crime. This man deliberately selected the intersection where the Delray Beach LGBTQ Streetscape is located.
“If surveliiance cameras caught someone carving anti-Semitic slurs in the sidewalk in front of a store owned by a Jewish person in Delray Beach, don’t you think State Attorney Aronberg would charge the person with a hate crime? The bottom line is, as long as Alexander Jerich is convicted for the felony he appears to have committed, serves time behind bars, and reimburses the taxpayers of Delray Beach for the cost of repairing the LGBTQ streetscape, then justice will have been served.”
Jerich is next scheduled to appear in court in mid-September.
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