Student charged with hate crime, disputes account
Published: Tuesday, May 1, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, May 1, 2012 02:05
Newark police arrested a university student Wednesday on two charges stemming from an April 15 incident that has been designated a hate crime, a charge disputed by the student.
Junior Derek Di Donato, 21, of Newark, was charged with a hate crime and offensive touching and released on $1,000 unsecured bail last week. Di Donato said he plans to plead not guilty at a June 11 arraignment.
According to Newark police, Di Donato made derogatory comments to freshman Zack Baum, who identifies as gay, about his sexuality shortly after midnight at Di Donato’s Cleveland Avenue residence on April 15.
Police said Di Donato then knocked Baum to the ground. Baum’s friends were able to separate the pair and exit the house, where they found police officers on foot patrol outside of Herman’s Quality Meat Shoppe at 64 E. Cleveland Ave.
According to Di Donato, he and his roommates had approximately 25 to 30 people in the house at the time Baum arrived. He said that, because of recent crime in the area, they decided to allow only people they knew to enter, and stationed a friend on the back porch to enforce that policy.
Di Donato said he was told that Baum and his friends were denied entry to the house. As Di Donato was sitting in his living room, he said he saw Baum approach, and then confronted the freshman, asking him who he was. He said that Baum responded by saying “F— off” and “shouldered by me as he walked by.”
He said, at this point, Baum looked like he was heading upstairs, where Di Donato had valuables. He said he grabbed Baum by the shoulder and pulled him back, and the two fell onto the ground. He denies punching, kicking or choking Baum.
“[Baum’s] friend kind of grabbed him and said, ‘Alright, alright, we’ll leave.’ I said, ‘OK, just leave’ and they walked out the door on their own will,” Di Donato said. “I walked toward the door to make sure they left and that was about it. I closed the door behind them and continued on with the night. I didn’t think much of it.”
Di Donato, a criminal justice major who hopes to enter the State Police and later the Federal Bureau of Investigation, said he feels like those plans are now in jeopardy because of the situation.
“[It has] been devastating to me and my entire family. My name is out there associated with a hate crime,” Di Donato said. “It’s really devastating and a shame that it has to come to this. The entire thing was no longer than 12 seconds.”
In an April 19 Office of Student Conduct judicial hearing, both Di Donato and Baum confirmed that Di Donato was found guilty on a charge of disorderly conduct and not guilty on a charge of sexual harassment. According to Baum, both verdicts will be appealed.
Di Donato has retained the Wilmington-based criminal defense attorney Eugene Maurer for his legal representation.
Baum previously told The Review that he arrived at a party located at Di Donato’s residence wearing a pink sash with the phrase “Birthday Girl” stitched on it. When he entered the party, Baum said he was grabbed by the neck and shoved to the ground by Di Donato. While on the ground, beer was allegedly poured on him.
Baum said he was surprised by Di Donato’s testimony at the hearing.
“I woke up that morning ready to forgive and forget, ready to move on with my life and ready to allow Mr. Di Donato to move on with his […] I was hoping he’d say to me, ‘Zack, I’m so sorry for what I did, there’s no excuses for it and I’m never going to do it again. […] That was not the case, unfortunately.”
Instead, Baum said Di Donato told his side of the story at the hearing, which Baum said included “a lot of fabrications about what happened that night.”
“First of all, he stated that I intended to steal something from his house, which is absolutely ridiculous. […] He said that I tried to touch him, he said that I cursed at him, he said that he escorted me out of the house, which he didn’t,” Baum said.
Baum also said, on the night in question, he and his friends arrived at a large party.
“[Di Donato] said that it wasn’t a party, [but] that there were 150 people there […] he described it as a small gathering of friends. When me and my friends gather, it’s usually not with 150 people, a cover charge and a DJ.”
Since the incident, Baum said he has had trouble sleeping and, when he does fall asleep, he has nightmares.