A Portland, Maine man is facing multiple charges for what police call a hate crime against high school students.
Jamie Hoffman, 20, has been charged with assault and interference with constitutional or civil rights. Police say on Jan. 27, Hoffman yelled racial slurs at two black freshman from Casco Bay High School, as they waited at a bus stop.
When other students yelled back and defended their classmates, the verbal assault turned physical, police say. Hoffman allegedly punched one of the teenagers in the face, then pulled out a screw driver and threatened them.
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Police say Hoffman ran away, but students and witnesses helped identify him. He was arrested last Friday, and entered three not guilty pleas in Portland court Monday.
The judge ordered him held on $1,000 cash bail.
Hoffman's attorney, while arguing for lower bail, said it was not clear who the aggressor was, and if his speech was protected.
The incident has sparked community outrage, and a political debate.
On the day he was charged, students and staff at Casco Bay high school staged a "walk out" and protest, chanting "Everyone is welcome here."
Superintendent Xavier Botana wrote a letter to parents, and the Portland community, that framed the hate crime in the context of national politics.
He wrote: "I want to take this opportunity to encourage all of us to understand the noxious environment in which this deplorable event took place. On Friday, the president signed an executive order barring immigrants from several Muslim-majority nations from entering the United States. This came on the heels of another order to build a wall along the United States’ southern border. For a long time now, the rhetoric accompanying these actions represents a radical and disturbing departure from the principles on which this country was built and which so many have fought to protect and extend."
That statement caught the attention of officials at the Maine GOP, who said the Superintendent was politicizing the event and potentially making students of different political beliefs marginalized.
In a Maine GOP statement, officials wrote: "Forcing students and teachers to give up time taxpayer-funded school time to engage in a partisan agenda promoted by school district officials fosters a hostile environment for anyone who may not share the same political beliefs."