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Ex-Student Suspected in E-Mail Threats Against Asians

Hate: About 60 UCI students, staff members received hate-filled, misspelled message. Campus police are consulting with district attorney's office.

September 28, 1996|MARTIN MILLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

IRVINE — University police said Friday they are searching for a former UCI student suspected of delivering an anonymous computer message last week threatening to "hunt . . . down and kill" Asians on the predominately Asian American campus.

Police said the hate-filled e-mail message was addressed to about 60 students and staff on Sept. 20. Most of them are Asian Americans, including the suspect's former roommate, said Dennis Powers, assistant chief of the UCI police.

Powers said the suspect, who was identified by the university's computer technicians, attended classes at UCI this spring. His whereabouts are unknown, and Powers declined to identify him until they have questioned him.

The message, which contained less than a dozen sentences and was signed "Asian-Hater," blamed Asians for campus crime and for what he called the school's unpopularity. It concluded with: "I personally will make it my life carreer [sic] to find and kill every one of you personally."

The message sparked outrage throughout the quiet campus, where classes begin Monday. Last year, 47% of UCI's approximately 16,700 students were of Asian American descent, the largest percentage of any UC school.

"It's completely repugnant to all the values that we try to instill in our students," said UCI Vice Chancellor Manuel Gomez.

Chancellor Laurel L. Wilkening issued a campuswide memo Friday calling on students, staff and faculty to deal with each other with "respect and dignity."

Asian students were particularly incensed by the incident.

"It's a feeling of betrayal. It really upsets me," said Nicole Inouye, chairwoman of UCI's Asian-Pacific Student Assn., an umbrella group representing 18 campus groups. "If I had received one of those messages, I would be looking at people and wondering if that was the person who wrote it."

Because of free speech protections and the largely unregulated use of the Internet, police and school officials are uncertain what school policies or laws may have been violated.

"This is a little problematic, because computer crimes bypass statutory law," Powers said. "It's really ahead of the law, and we are having a hard time coming up with a crime."

University police are consulting with the Orange County district attorney's office about which of three statutes the office might charge him with: making annoying telephone calls, issuing a terrorist threat or violating civil rights.

Officials with the Orange County district attorney's office are awaiting a final police report before discussing the case.

"I can say it's something we are going to take very seriously," said Deputy Dist. Atty. Matt Murphy.

Speech on the computer network is subject to the same legal standards as speech in any other medium, say legal experts. And under California law, speech that seriously intends to threaten is a felony.

However, experts say legally proving a threat was made on the Internet, where talk is cheap, will be very difficult. Experts say the suspect could easily contend he was joking around, a common occurrence on the Internet.

"In theory, one can argue for an assault [charge]," said Jeremy Miller, dean of Chapman University's law school. "But in practice, it's hard to convict someone of a crime like this."

College campuses across the country are grappling with monitoring the Internet. In a closely watched case last year, a University of Michigan student who sent graphic e-mail messages about torturing young women was charged with transmitting a threat over state lines by electronic mail. That case was dismissed.

It was the second time racial epithets were transmitted via the Internet at UCI, according to campus police records. In 1995, a Korean student who sent out negative messages about Filipinos in an Internet chat room was later assaulted by five Vietnamese students.

Even if charges are never filed against the latest UCI suspect, university officials said they certainly will bar him from reentering the school. The student has not tried to register for this quarter, but students have until early October to do so.

UCI police and administrators said they believe he acted alone.

"We hope this is an isolated incident," said Gomez, who notes all UCI students have access to computers. "But with the prevalent use of the Internet on campus, I think unfortunately this may not be the last one we'll see."

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