Whitney Hall vandals strike plea bargain

The two Chico State students who left racist graffiti inside a campus dorm last February struck a plea bargain with prosecutors that downgraded the charges against them from felony to misdemeanor vandalism.

Both Deric Braito and Timothy Simmons pleaded guilty to the lesser charges, which will put Simmons in jail for 30 days and allow Braito to use the time he has already served—about 90 days—as punishment. Simmons and Braito also agreed to pay the university back almost $600 each for the damages they caused, and Simmons will perform 200 hours of community service and be placed on probation for two years.

Braito also faces unrelated federal charges for allegedly downloading child pornography to his home computer. The photos in question were found on his computer months before the vandalism incident, when federal agents raided his apartment in response to an e-mail sent to this newspaper threatening to send a sample of the deadly anthrax virus here. Braito apparently made the threat because he was angry over being charged to use the CN&R’s “Talking Personals” online dating service.

In court last Wednesday, Braito admitted to sending the threatening e-mail and to using a permanent marker to write racist and sexist graffiti on posters, doors and dry-erase boards at Whitney Hall. Because the anthrax threat was deemed “non-credible,” he was charged with false reporting of an emergency rather than the more serious charge of making terrorist threats. He is scheduled to appear in court in Sacramento this week to explain the alleged child porn, and according to Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey, Braito is expected to plead guilty. Those charges, when coupled with an extra eight months tacked on for the vandalism episode, could land Braito in prison for almost four years.

The graffiti Braito and Simmons left at Whitney Hall, which included swastikas and racial epithets, prompted students and administrators to hold an emotional campus rally against hate speech and racism. The timing of the incident also gave rise to early speculation that the pair was responsible for other incidents of racial graffiti that had been occurring near campus around that same time. Police were never able to substantiate those suspicions and now say the incidents were probably unrelated.

At first, Braito and Simmons were charged with a hate crime and felony vandalism, which could have put each of them in prison for six years. But the hate crime enhancement was thrown out by Judge James Reilly, who ruled that the graffiti did not meet the strict criteria for what constitutes a hate crime. Lawyers for the pair tried throughout the case to present their clients as a couple of misguided kids who got drunk and made a foolish mistake on the night they went on their spree. Neither defendant ever owned up to being racist, with Braito telling police he only meant to “stir things up” when he scrawled things like “fuck niggers,” “fuck Mexicans” and “I am a Nazi” at the dorm.

The two were caught after police discovered the suspects had scrawled Braito’s home address on a dorm poster as part of an open invitation for coeds to come over, have sex and take bong hits with them.