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Thursday, July 9, 2020

Western student enters ‘not guilty’ plea to charges related to recent racist, homophobic vandalism on campus

By Esther Chong and Cody Clark

Western student Shayne Merwin, 20, pleaded not guilty to charges of second-degree burglary and malicious harassment at his arraignment in Whatcom County Superior Court on Dec. 7. Merwin was arrested on Nov. 26 in connection with recent instances of racist and homophobic vandalism on campus.

Malicious harassment is a class C felony for committing a hate crime, and is punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of $10,000, according to Washington state law, section 9A.36.080.

Someone can be found guilty of malicious harassment if they damage the property of another person, or threaten or harm them based on their identity, defined by Washington state law as “race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, or mental, physical, or sensory [ability].”

On Nov. 18, name tags on residents’ rooms in Nash Hall as well as a Nash stairwell were defaced with racist language, a homophobic slur and a threat of sexual violence, according to a WWU Campus Advisory. The following day, a racial epithet was discovered on the “Wright’s Triangle” art installation and a poster in front of Arntzen Hall also was defaced with racist language, according to the advisory.

The instances of vandalism included slurs targeted at the Black, Latinx, Japanese and LGBTQ+ communities, according to the advisory.  

Merwin’s pretrial release condition that prohibited him from leaving Whatcom County was lifted at the arraignment, allowing him to return to his hometown of Gold Bar, Washington until his next court appearance.

Merwin’s trial is set for Feb.19, 2019, with a pre-trial confirmation hearing set for Feb. 13.

According to Vice President of Enrollment and Student Services Melynda Huskey, Merwin will not be returning to Western for the remainder of fall quarter. Huskey made the announcement that Merwin had decided to leave his fall quarter classes of his own accord during the student-organized sit-in in response to the vandalism and systemic racism on campus on Monday, Dec. 3.

Merwin declined a request for an interview with the Western Front.

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