Towson University is investigating a possible hate crime after police responded to an alleged assault against two members of a Jewish fraternity near campus early Sunday morning, according to a Baltimore County police report.
The two victims, both members of Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi, told police that they were walking to a house in the unit block of Aigburth Road at 2:12 a.m. Sunday when two suspects followed them, shouting "F--- the Jews" and calling them an ethnic slur. The assailants, the report said, then followed the victims to the front of the house and began to punch one of the victims in the face.
"He believes the assault was motivated by his religious beliefs," the police report said of one of the victims.
The victim told police he recognized the assailants as Towson University students.
One of the victims called 911, and the responding police officers arrived at the scene and saw the two suspects standing over one of the victims and yelling at him, the report said. The officer then told the parties to separate and saw injuries on the victim's face.
Both suspects appeared intoxicated, the report said. Police know the identities of both assailants, but the Baltimore Sun Media Group is not publishing their identities because they have not yet been charged.
As of Monday afternoon, the victims had not pressed charges against the assailants. Police spokeswoman Officer Jennifer Peach said that because the incident was a second-degree assault, the assailants cannot be prosecuted unless victims choose to do so. The victims have a year to press charges, Peach said.
Second-degree assault can result in up to 10 years in prison. A hate crime — defined as a crime against someone because of their identity, including religious beliefs — is a misdemeanor which can result in up to three years in prison or a $5,000 fine.
Sean Welsh, a spokesman for Towson University, confirmed that the assailants and victims are all current students.
"The incident has been referred to the Office of Student Conduct and the Office of Inclusion and Institutional Equity to launch a full investigation on the basis that the incident was reported as both assault as well as hate-bias," Welsh said in an emailed statement. "All reports are taken seriously and thoroughly investigated."
If found responsible, Welsh said, the suspects could face sanctions "up to and including suspension or expulsion."
According to a 2016 campus security report, the most recent one available, hate crimes at Towson University are rare — only three bias-related incidents were reported on campus between 2014 and 2016 — two assaults related to race and one vandalism incident related to religion.
Jon Pierce, a spokesman for Alpha Epsilon Pi, a national fraternity based in Indianapolis, said the fraternity believes there is "no question" that the incident was a hate crime.
"We are working with University and local officials to bring these perpetrators of hate and violence to justice," Pierce said in an email. "In the meantime, we are taking steps to protect our brothers at Towson and around the world."
The Aigburth Road location where the incident took place is not an official fraternity house, but Pierce said some members of the fraternity live there.
Rabbi Mendy Rivkin, who leads a nearby chapter of the Jewish outreach organization Chabad and owns the Aigburth house, confirmed that one of the two victims lives in the house along with other members of the fraternity. Rivkin said he did not witness the incident itself but walked outside as police were taking a report.
Rivkin said incidents like Sunday's are uncommon in the local Jewish community, but that bias "exists here in Towson."
"In the world we live in today, you always have to be concerned about security, you have to pay attention," Rivkin said.
The fraternity is putting the Towson University chapter in touch with an international security consultant to review its security protocol, Pierce said.
Sunday's incident, Pierce said, is in line with a broader trend on campuses across the country.
Pierce pointed to statistics from the Anti-Defamation League, which tracks anti-Semitism. The group reported in February that anti-Semitic incidents nationally increased by 60 percent in 2017 from the year before.
"On college campuses today, there is a great deal of concern about rising incidents of anti-Semitism," Pierce said in an interview, adding that the organization talks with its chapters about safety protocol, what to do in the event of anti-Semitic incidents and ways to avoid becoming a target of such incidents.
"We will continue to stand up against this kind of hate and protect our values and our ongoing belief that [Alpha Epsilon Pi] and Jewish students on college campuses should feel safe," Pierce said.