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Published 12:00 ET Jan 24, 2017
Laura Lane | 812-331-4362 | firstname.lastname@example.org, The Herald Times
A former Indiana University student who grabbed a Muslim woman, tried to pull off her headscarf and knocked her to the ground was acting in an intoxicated stupor, not as a racist, investigators say, and he will spend no time in jail for the Oct. 16, 2015, attack.
Triceten Derrick Bickford, of Fort Wayne, pleaded guilty Monday in Monroe County Circuit Court to battery causing moderate injury. The charge is a felony, but Judge Teresa Harper reduced it to a misdemeanor and determined the sentence. A plea agreement dismissed other charges: strangulation, two counts of intimidation, battery and battery by bodily waste.
A one-year jail term was suspended and 20-year-old Bickford will be on probation until Jan. 13, 2018.
An investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI determined that Bickford’s attack against the woman was not a hate crime. Bickford said he never would judge someone by skin color or religion. He attributed his behavior to an afternoon of heavy drinking at an IU football tailgate party combined with prescribed medication. He told Harper he drank shots of straight liquor and also tequila-laced punch from a turkey baster.
A 30-second surveillance video from a nearby alteration shop viewed in court Monday showed Bickford stumbling toward the woman and her 9-year-old daughter, who were sitting at a sidewalk table outside the Sofra Cafe on Walnut Street in the early evening drinking tea.
Bickford grabbed the woman’s headscarf and pulled on one end, spinning her around and out of her chair. Witnesses reported that Bickford shouted racial slurs and the words “white power” and “kill the police” during the incident.
A passer-by and the woman’s husband saw the attack and ran to her aid, tackling Bickford to the ground and holding him there until police arrived. Officers said he spit at them and also kicked the inside of the police car.
Bickford told the judge he was an inexperienced drinker who had taken two prescription drugs that day, for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and depression, which exacerbated his level of intoxication. He recalled roaming the streets trying to find his way back to his IU dormitory. He could not interpret maps on his phone nor could he read street signs, he said.
He admitted that mixing alcohol and his prescribed drugs was “a recipe for disaster.”
Chief deputy prosecutor Bob Miller and defense attorney Katharine Liell both said the victim, who with her husband owns the cafe, said she didn’t want to be involved in determining the sentence her attacker would receive. She did not attend the hearing.
Two longtime friends testified they had not known Bickford to drink much and were shocked to learn of the charges he faced. They said he never was violent or aggressive toward anyone and that he held no racist views. “He’s probably the least bigoted person I know,” IU sophomore Drake White said. When he saw news reports on his cellphone, “I thought there was a mistake in the reporting,” he said. “Everyone was surprised.”
Bickford said that when he awoke in jail after his arrest, he could not recall what had happened. He was shocked at the seriousness of the charges and figured he had gotten into some kind of brawl.
After he bonded out of jail, he saw notifications on his phone and messages from friends about the incident. “I was in disbelief. I looked at my phone and saw an article, ‘IU student assaults Muslim woman,’ and I thought, ‘No, this is not happening.’ It was so disturbing.
“I thought I was in a nightmare. I couldn’t believe I had done that or said those things.”
He said he was “truly, deeply regretful,” and that the crime “violated every moral conviction I hold deeply.” He apologized in particular to the victim’s daughter, who witnessed the attack and ran away in fear.
Bickford completed his freshman year at IU-Purdue University at Indianapolis, then transferred to IU in Bloomington in fall 2015 as a sophomore. An honors student, he was expelled soon after his arrest and is living with his parents in Fort Wayne.