Judge Says Two Should Face Hate-Crime Charge
Calling an attack on a black teen-ager “one of the most vicious beatings I’ve seen in a long time,” Municipal Judge Pamela L. Iles Tuesday urged the Orange County district attorney’s office to charge two men with a hate crime.
“They attacked and beat this kid within an inch of his life,” Iles said of the Aug. 5 beating of Ruben Charles Vaughan III, 15, of Tustin. “It seems like Mr. Vaughan was in the wrong place at the wrong time and he was the wrong color.”
After originally considering a series of charges, the district attorney’s office announced Aug. 25 that the attack that hospitalized Vaughan for four days would not be prosecuted as a hate crime, because the group of attackers was “looking to get someone from Santa Margarita High School” and had only “stumbled upon” Vaughan, according to Deputy Dist. Atty. Bruce Patterson.
But on Tuesday, after ordering two men to stand trial for assault with a deadly weapon and causing great bodily harm, Iles suggested that the district attorney’s office reconsider that decision. An investigator testified that someone in the attacking crowd yelled “Get the nigger!” before beating Vaughan into unconsciousness, breaking his nose and jaw, and stabbing him in seven places.
“They didn’t say ‘Get the Santa Margarita guy,’ they said ‘Get the nigger,”’ Iles said. “There’s nothing else to conclude.”
Deputy Dist. Atty. Christopher Kralich, who attended Tuesday’s preliminary hearing, declined comment, other than to say his office would study Iles’ suggestion.
Iles ordered Derek Thomas Jones, 20, of Huntington Beach, and Russell T. Scarce, 19, of Lake Forest, to appear in Orange County Superior Court on Sept. 12 to stand trial on the felony assault charges. Jones is accused of stabbing Vaughan with a foldable “buck knife” and Scarce allegedly hit him with a pry bar during the melee, according to testimony.
Both men, who have been in custody in Orange County Jail for several weeks, have pleaded not guilty. Iles ordered their bail to remain at $100,000 each.
Another Lake Forest man and a 16-year-old Lake Forest juvenile also have been arrested in connection with the case.
Vaughan, who attended Santa Margarita High School last year as a freshman and played varsity football, testified in court that he and three schoolmates went to a “flyer party” at a home on Live Oak Canyon Road in Trabuco Canyon about 9 p.m. that Friday night, only to find no one home. After circling around the neighborhood briefly and returning, they found a group of 25 to 30 youths in cars and on the street.
When Vaughan and his friends got out of their car, the group approached them and punched and knocked down one of the Santa Margarita High youths, Chris Collins, Vaughan said. Vaughan helped him up and three of the friends managed to get into the car and drive off, leaving Vaughan surrounded by the attackers, he said.
“I stood there and looked at the car drive away and someone said, ‘Where are your friends now?’ ” Vaughan said. “I was all by myself.”
Vaughan grabbed a metal and glass light fixture from a lawn, cutting his fingers in the process, and threw it at the crowd before he was attacked and knocked unconscious.
“I remember getting hit and then I don’t remember anything after that until someone from the house asked me if I was all right,” Vaughan testified. “Then I heard the ambulance coming.”
James Sweeney, Scarce’s attorney, said the fight was the result of an ongoing feud between youths from Santa Margarita High School and El Toro High School and not an attack aimed at Vaughan personally. He said he doubted hate crime charges would be filed, despite Iles’ urgings.
“This was a turf war, and unfortunately Mr. Vaughan was the last one to get away,” Sweeney said.
Jones’ attorney, Michael B. McClellan, agreed, adding that there is not enough evidence to prove a hate crime.
“Judge Iles is a very tough judge,” McClellan said. “She has great sympathy for victims. She has always been a champion of victims’ rights. I have a lot of respect for that. (But) in this case, there was only one statement, one vile statement yes, but only one in a crowd of 20 people.”