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Four Youths Acquitted of Hate Crimes in San Jose Beating

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Four youths charged with what prosecutors alleged was a racially motivated beating of a black student at a San Jose, Calif., elementary school have been acquitted of assault and hate-crime charges.

The four juveniles were found not guilty late last month in a case stemming from a May incident that stirred racial tensions in the community.

The youths were charged after a 12-year-old black student at Encinal Elementary School, Jake Thompson, alleged that he had been beaten and kicked in a school bathroom by several white and Hispanic students, who he said had pushed his head into a toilet and scribbled racial epithets on the wall.

The police originally arrested 10 boys in the incident, but prosecutors dropped charges against six of the youths.

The incident led to the creation of a race-relations task force in the Morgan Hill Unified School District. It also caused considerable rancor in the community over the way the case was handled by school officials and law-enforcement authorities.

The school's principal initially investigated the incident and punished one youth, said James Crow, the superintendent of the Morgan Hill district. Many parents were surprised several weeks later, however, when the police became involved and arrested 10 students.

"There was a blowing up of an incident that was handled'' by school officials, Mr. Crow said. "Unfortunately, it disrupted the lives of a lot of families.''

Doubts About Incident

The one-week trial of the four youths raised doubts about whether a racially motivated attack had occurred at all.

"No hate crime occurred in this case,'' said Albie B. Jachimowicz, a lawyer for one of the four defendants.

The defendants, who are 10 to 13 years old, are the youngest people ever charged with a hate crime in Santa Clara County, officials said. Two of the youths are Hispanic, one is white, and one is of Middle Eastern descent.

During the trial, a student testifying for the prosecution recanted his earlier backing of the victim's version of events and alleged that Jake had fabricated the attack, ripping his own shirt and dunking his head in the toilet before going to the principal's office.

In addition, a defense witness testified that the alleged victim had encouraged him to lie about the incident.

Marc Buller, the deputy district attorney for Santa Clara County who prosecuted the case, said there was much "contradictory evidence'' presented by the defense, which "raised doubts about how [the incident] transpired.''

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