Wednesday, August 8, 2012
A contrary image was presented to Pima County Justice Court Justice of the Peace Keith Bee during Randall Leon Thompson's hearing yesterday afternoon, in which the 60-year-old Mohave County resident pleaded guilty to using the telephone to harass and threaten a UA assistant professor and will serve a year of supervised probation.
During most of the proceedings, Thompson, who resembles a kindly grandfather dressed in a plaid shirt, jeans and cowboy boots, sat quietly next to his attorney, his left hand pressed against his face. The air-conditioning hum in the room sometimes made it difficult to hear Bee from his bench, forcing Thompson to occasionally cup his hand over his ear in order to hear better.
Last year, UA Chicano studies assistant professor Roberto Rodriguez checked his work voice mail in his Mexican-American studies department office on campus. He discovered three messages left by Thompson filled with profanities and death threats. After the UAPD completed its investigation, the case was referred to the Pima County Attorney's Office, which filed five misdemeanor charges against Thompson — three separate counts of threatening or intimidating; one count of use of telephone of threatening to harass; and a final count of harassment.
Before Bee heard Thompson's plea, Rodriguez was allowed to read a statement to the court. Here is Rodriguez's statement in its entirety:
"I have never met Mr. Thompson and I don't know where he lives. Yet in his messages to me, he claimed I was trying to take his house and as such, threatened the use of 357 Magnum, to take me out, and to wage war against Mexicans," Rodriguez read out loud.
"The calls are full of hate and lots of anti-Mexican vitriol. It is the kind of hate that unfortunately has become common in this state. If you doubt me, look at the comments section in the media, particularly here in our daily newspaper. What puzzles me is why Mr. Thompson isolated me? Apparently, he is not the only one who seems to believe that I am a ringleader of sorts."
Rodriguez continued reading his statement, explaining his commitment to Mexican-American studies at the UA and Tucson Unified School District, and that because of his work and as a human being, he doesn't deserve death threats. He went on to provide a familiar MAS lesson for Bee's court room.
"In Tucson, we teach In lak Ech-Tu eres mi otro yo-you are my other me and Panche Be-buscar la raiz de la verdad —- to seek the root of the truth. We teach our students to see themselves in each other, regardless of race or nationality or culture. But we also do teach them to stand up for their rights."
Rodriguez ended his statement with a request.
"I don't want anybody's land... especially nobody else's house ... just to be treated as a full human being. I don't want anything from the court, except to ask Mr. Thompson why he isolated me. Yet I do have a question for the court: do these threats — given Justice Department definitions — not rise to the level of hate crimes?" he asked.
When Rodriguez passed a copy of his statement to Bee, Bee told the assistant professor that he couldn't answer that question. That was a decision that could only be made by the US Attorney, he said.
After Rodriguez's statement, Pima County Deputy Attorney Liz Farkas read excerpts from transcripts of Thompson's three voice mail messages. The messages, saddled with profanities, threatening to use a 357 Magnum against the teacher, calling him a "Raza mother fucker."
"'You are going to wish to god you had never (been) born,'" Farkas read.
Farkus told Bee that the number identified from the calls was traced to a wireless phone in Thompson's wife's name. When detectives went to Thompson's house, he admitted to making the calls.
Bee told Thompson to walk to and stand in front his bench.
Thompson pushed himself up, never looking at the group of people seated in the small court room, many of whom were there to support Rodriguez.
"This is just disgusting. Disgusting," Bee said with emotion looking straight at Thompson, who looked ahead at the judge.
Bee dismissed several charges, except one count using a telephone to "terrify, intimidate, threaten or harass." Thompson plead guilty. Bee said if Rodriguez wanted he would sentence Thompson to jail, but the teacher said no and Bee sentenced Thompson to one-year supervised probation.
At the end of the hearing, Thompson's attorney said his client was already serving probation in Mohave County, but because he works in Pima County he did not know why Thompson was on probation. Rodriguez said he still felt Thompson's probation sentence was too lenient and he hoped to pursue a hate crime charge, which would force Thompson to face felony charges.
Rodriguez said he told Bee that he didn't want Thompson to serve time in jail on the advice of his attorney, Paul Gattone, who sat in the court room next to Rodriguez.
When Thompson was approached for comment on why he targeted Rodriguez, he stood near his attorney and refused to comment.