The vibrant rainbow mural celebrating the LGBTQ community had been on display in a South Florida intersection last June for two days before it was stained with dark black tire marks. The act of vandalism, caught on video and sent to police anonymously, led to the arrest of a 19-year-old man, who pleaded guilty.
Last week, Alexander Jerich, now 20, was given an unusual order: write a 25-page essay on the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting.
Jerich has until his sentencing hearing on June 8 to complete the essay, according to court records. His attorney did not immediately respond to The Washington Post’s request for comment.
When explaining the assignment last Thursday, Circuit Judge Scott Suskauer said he wanted Jerich to research the 49 people who were killed when a gunman who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State opened fire inside the gay nightclub in Orlando, the Palm Beach Post reported.
“I want your own brief summary of why people are so hateful and why people lash out against the gay community,” Suskauer said, according to the newspaper.
Suskauer is not the first judge to turn punishments into teachable moments for defendants. In February, a judge ordered a man who pleaded guilty to taking part in the Capitol riot to spend 60 hours reading about American government and civics. A Missouri judge in 2018 ordered an animal poacher to watch “Bambi” at least once a month for a year. In 2010, a Michigan judge ordered a teenager who killed a woman in a hit-and-run to read three books per month because the woman who died was an avid reader. And an Ohio landlord who was found in 2008 to be violating several building codes was put under house arrest for six months in one of his units.
The mural on an intersection in Delray Beach was unveiled on June 12, 2021, the fifth anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting. Two days later, Jerich was captured in a cellphone video approaching the intersection around 8 p.m. in his white Chevy pickup truck with a Donald Trump flag hanging on the back. Jerich was part of a 30-car rally for the former president’s birthday on June 14, police said.
As he drove over the mural, Jerich “intentionally accelerated the vehicle in an unreasonable unsafe manner in a short amount of time, commonly referred to as a ‘burn out,’ ” the affidavit said. “The Chevy truck continues to recklessly skid sideways.”
The video shows two long tire marks that stained the mural and caused thousands of dollars in damage, police said.
On June 15, a man contacted the Delray Beach Police Department and said he had witnessed the vandalism and recorded the incident on his phone. The witness also said he heard someone shout at the man in the Chevy to “tear up that gay intersection.”
Officers tracked down Jerich through the license plate in the video. Police contacted him on June 17, and he agreed to turn himself in, the affidavit says. He was arrested and posted $1,000 bond that same day.
Jerich pleaded guilty to charges of criminal mischief and reckless driving in March and agreed to pay $2,003 to fix the mural, according to court documents. The Palm Beach County state attorney did not add a hate-crime charge because Florida’s statute states there must be a specific victim targeted.
The vandalism caused an uproar in the South Florida community. In a victim impact statement, Rand Hoch, president of Palm Beach County Human Rights Council, wrote that the intersection was meant to make people feel “proud, safe and welcomed in Delray Beach. Now we feel angry, threatened and vulnerable.” He implored the judge to sentence Jerich to prison.
“He was not just a young man fooling around with his truck,” Hoch wrote. He added, “Jerich literally left marks of hate.”
Prosecutors have requested that the judge sentence Jerich to 30 days in jail and five years of probation.
Jerich cried during the hearing on Thursday and apologized for the vandalism, according to the Palm Beach Post, but he did not explain his actions.
“I’ve had problems in the past with fitting in,” Jerich said. “I was just trying to fit in and be accepted.”
Suskauer, the judge, showed sympathy for Jerich, noting that he did not want the young man’s record to follow him for the rest of his life, the Palm Beach Post reported. He added that he wants Jerich to volunteer for LGBTQ organizations.