California Men's Colony correctional officer James Allen Jones Jr. was arrested Tuesday for beating up a Wells Fargo employee last month. The employee had demanded that Jones wear a mask in accordance with a county wide indoor mask mandate in order to enter the bank. Instead of just putting a mask on, Jones assaulted the employee in the parking lot before fleeing the scene. Just because he was not willing to wear a mask he was never able to enter the bank, was the subject of a weeks long investigation, and now faces felony charges.
When investigators interviewed the victim they discovered that he belongs to an undisclosed ethnic minority group. The victim later claimed that Jones yelled ethnic slurs at him while assaulting him. As a result of those alleged comments, Jones is now charged with a hate crime. While we fully support charging correctional officers with assault when they assault people, we have a problem with charging people with hate crimes bases solely on unproven allegations that they uttered ethnic slurs during the commission of an assault. We already know that bank surveillance footage can likely prove that the assault took place, but we are not aware of that footage having any audio. It seems mighty convenient that the victim now claims to have been called ethnic slurs while assaulted without any proof. Even if the slurs were uttered we think the motive here was the enforcement of the mask mandate and not the ethnicity of the victim. Usually to sustain a hate crime charge the state must prove that the crime was motivated by the victim belonging to protected group not simply that the victim belongs to that group and that the perpetrator has some bias towards that group. There is a difference between attacking someone because of their ethnicity and attacking someone for a different reason who just happens to belong to an ethnic group you dislike. The former is a hate crime and the latter is just a regular crime committed by a bias person.
The most serious charge Jones faces is assault resulting in serious bodily injury, but the victim refused medical treatment at the scene. For that reason we do not believe that the victim was seriously injured. Under California law: "'Serious bodily injury' means a serious impairment of physical condition, including, but not limited to, the following: loss of consciousness; concussion; bone fracture; protracted loss or impairment of function of any bodily member or organ; a wound requiring extensive suturing; and serious disfigurement." (https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes_displaySection.xhtml?sectionNum=243.&lawCode=PEN). The likelihood of someone not requiring medical attention when injured in that fashion is so small that we think the victim in this case likely suffered little more than superficial injuries such as minor cuts and/or nasty bruises neither of which constitute serious bodily injuries.
The final charge on Jones' indictment is for felony threats. The news coverage we've read in this case does not describe the basis for this charge. We are guessing that Jones likely threatened to beat up the employee if he were no allowed to enter the bank before attacking him or her. In California one must threaten "great bodily injury" in order to for a conviction to be sustained (https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes_displaySection.xhtml?lawCode=PEN§ionNum=422). Media reports have not stated exactly what these threats were, but we suspect they were likely consistent with the behavior exhibited by Jones and probably did not include threats of "great" bodily injury. We think Jones probably threatened to beat up the victim, but probably didn't threaten anything beyond that. Absent proof that he threatened anything beyond a beat down we don't think there is sufficient evidence to convict Jones on this charge either.
This appears to be a misdemeanor battery case. We don't think that the victim's statements alone can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Jones uttered ethnic slurs or threatened "great bodily harm," and the injuries in this case are not significant enough to sustain a charge of "serious bodily injury."