The Palm Beach County state attorney's office filed charges of criminal mischief and reckless driving against the man who allegedly defaced the pride intersection in Delray Beach in June.
The felony and misdemeanor charges were announced in court Thursday morning; the Delray Beach Police Department had originally charged Alexander Jerich with a hate crime.
A plea hearing is scheduled for Sept. 13.
“Everyone who was part of this case was disturbed by the defendant’s conduct and as prosecutors we have to file charges based on the law and the law has some gaps in it,” Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg said in a press conference. “We don’t want to violate our oaths as prosecutors and we don’t want to jeopardize the case by charging inappropriately.”
Jerich, 21, was arrested on June 17 after a video surfaced online of him burning out over the intersection, leaving behind large skidmarks. The intersection had only been dedicated two days prior. A witness also came forward to police, who explained that they were gathered to celebrate former President Donald Trump’s birthday and were driving through the city as a part of the festivities. However, when they reached the intersection, someone yelled out, “Adam, tear up that gay intersection.” Jerich, or “Adam,” was picked out of a lineup by the witness; he said he came forward “not only as a community member but as a gay man.”
Aronberg explained that his office had looked into charging Jerich with a hate crime, but that it did not meet one of the requirements of the law. He said that the victim in this case was the city of Delray Beach, which does not have a sexual orientation or gender identity.
“I encourage the state legislature to review this area of the law to allow local government to be a victim in a crime that evidences prejudice so that prosecutors can utilize the hate crime enhancer in cases like this,” he said.
The state attorney’s office also looked into charging him under Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ new Combating Public Disorder statute, but Aronberg said that the case did not meet the requirement of the memorial honoring or recounting “the past or public service of a Florida or United States resident.”
“The streetscape itself names no specific individuals or groups with any memorial signs or plaques and does not specifically recognize or acknowledge any individuals' past or present, which makes it different from the examples of memorials listed in the statute,” he said.
The police report states that the cost of street space was $16,720, paid for with private money, and the city is working with the vendor to have the intersection repainted. Richard Clausi, Jr., assistant state attorney, said that the cost to fix it has been estimated around $8,000.
The Palm Beach County Human Rights Council (PBCHRC) released a statement denouncing the office’s charges.
"Although I was not surprised that State Attorney Dave Aronberg shied away from charging Alexander Jerich under the new Combating Public Disorder Act, I was shocked that he refused to seek enhanced penalties under Florida's hate crimes law,” wrote Rand Hoch, the president of the PBCHRC.
“If surveillance cameras caught someone carving anti-Semitic slurs in the sidewalk in front of a store owned by a Jewish person in Delray Beach, don't you think State Attorney Aronberg would charge the person with a hate crime?”
During his press conference, Aronberg said he imagines that moving forward, how memorials are done and honored will be changed in order to protect them from vandals in the future.
“Make no mistake, we are appalled by the defendant’s actions. Hate has no place in our community and we intend to hold the defendant accountable for his crimes,” Aronberg said. “Any punishment must also include restitution that will pay for the Pride streetscape to be fully restored to its original form.”