By Laila Kearney
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - The president of a California university said on Monday that he "failed" a black student whose roommates have been charged with hate crimes and battery for allegedly clamping a bicycle lock on his neck and weeks of harassment.
Student protests have been held at San Jose State University since the accusations came to light.
Three of the African American student's former roommates were charged last week with misdemeanor hate crime and battery. They have been suspended from the university. Media reports say the students are white. Reuters could not immediately confirm those reports.
A fourth student, who is a juvenile, faces the same charges, according to the San Jose Mercury News. School officials have said that student also was suspended.
San Jose State University President Mohammad Qayoumi, in a statement on Monday said he and other school officials could have done more to protect the black student.
"By failing to recognize the meaning of a Confederate flag, intervene earlier to stop the abuse or impose sanctions as soon as the gravity of the behavior became clear, we failed him. I failed him," Qayoumi said in the statement.
The Confederate flag has been a divisive symbol in the United States because it is associated with the southern states that wanted to preserve slavery during the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s.
The university will appoint an independent expert to lead a task force that will examine the case and propose reforms, he said. Campus officials should have helped student residence hall advisors recognize signs of abuse, he added.
The student who authorities say was harassed by his roommates has not been named.
The adult students accused of taunting him are Logan Beaschler and Colin Warren, both 18, and Joseph Bomgardner, 19. They shared a dormitory suite on campus with the black student, who was 17 years old at the time.
It was not clear if any of the accused students have hired an attorney.
The three students used racist terms to refer to the young man, displayed Nazi symbols and a Confederate flag in the suite and once attempted to put a U-shaped bicycle lock around his neck, causing him minor injuries when he fought back, authorities said.
On Saturday, Reverend Jethroe Moore II, the head of the San Jose/Silicon Valley chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, called for a higher level of charges to be brought against the students accused of harassing the black student, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Moore urged prosecutors to file felony charges against the men, according to the paper.
Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen in a statement on Monday said he and colleagues "understand the outrage" of those calling for stiffer charges. But he said the charges are not "a reflection of the degree of ... racism" the men are accused of displaying.
"The charges are a reflection of their criminal conduct," Rosen said. "To date, we have charged the perpetrators with the most serious crimes based on the facts."
(Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)