One charged in UND harassmentGRAND FORKS, N.D. - The Grand Forks County state’s attorney’s office issued charges late Tuesday afternoon against UND student Spencer Garness for a March incident in which Garness allegedly wrote “Scott is a Jew” in ice cream on an elevator at West residence hall.
By: Joseph Marks, Grand Forks Herald, Worthington Daily Globe
GRAND FORKS, N.D. - The Grand Forks County state’s attorney’s office issued charges late Tuesday afternoon against UND student Spencer Garness for a March incident in which Garness allegedly wrote “Scott is a Jew” in ice cream on an elevator at West residence hall.
The graffiti was directed at West Hall resident Scott Lebovitz, a Jewish student who said he moved out of his dorm room about two weeks ago after repeated anti-Semitic taunts and intimidation.
Garness was charged with disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor that carries a maximum penalty of 30 days in jail and a $1,000 fine, Assistant State’s Attorney Carmell Mattison said. Garness’ first hearing likely will be scheduled before the end of the week, she said.
There is no specific designation for hate crimes under North Dakota law, Mattison said, so the question of whether the anti-Semitic graffiti reached that level was not a consideration in her decision to bring charges.
While some states do have hate crime designations that carry stiffer penalties, Mattison said she’s not familiar enough with those state’s laws to say whether the ice cream incident would be considered a hate crime.
Lebovitz said Tuesday he had been complaining to UND authorities about the intimidation for several months and was glad some charges had finally been filed.
“I really haven’t had the time to let it sink in,” he said. “The emotion I do have is a lot of contentment. After all these months, the road to closure is beginning, which is good. I’m happy that finally something is happening.”
Lebovitz also found a swastika drawn in the stairwell of his dorm floor in February. That case still is being investigated by UND police. Chief Duane Czapiewski has said his office has no suspects in that case and Mattison said Tuesday there’s no reason to believe Garness was responsible.
Lebovitz said Garness was one of several students on his dorm floor who singled him out, taunting him with Jewish stereotypes, but Garness was not the group’s leader.
Lebovitz filed a report with UND police early this week, he said, after a friend of the student wrote a series of profanity-laden messages to him on Facebook. He likened the messages to playground taunting by someone who wanted to get a rise out of him, but said he wanted the messages documented with police in case a pattern emerged.
UND has seen a string of racially-charged graffiti in recent months, including swastikas and racial slurs, at five different residence halls. Only the West Hall case has led to charges so far.
UND Spokesman Peter Johnson said Tuesday the school will offer its support to the state’s attorney’s office.
“We’ve worked closely with the state’s attorney’s office a number of times in the past,” he said, “and we have every bit of faith in them to prosecute violations of the law. Any charges they think are logical, we’d support that. They’re the experts in that area.”
Johnson said he does not know the status of an internal investigation of the West Hall incidents, being led by UND’s Residence Services office. UND administrators agreed late last week to refund the money Lebovitz paid for his dorm room after he’d moved out, a move residence services earlier resisted.