CORVALLIS — An Oregon State University student is now facing hate crime charges for allegedly placing racist stickers on cars in Corvallis last year.
Andrew Joseph Oswalt faces two counts of first-degree intimidation, each a Class C felony carrying up to five years in prison upon conviction, according to an indictment filed Tuesday in Benton County Circuit Court. Oswalt also is charged with two counts of third-degree criminal mischief, each carrying a penalty of up to 30 days in jail if found guilty.
Police first arrested Oswalt on Jan. 22 after he was identified as a possible suspect in the incident. He was booked into the Benton County Jail and released the same day on his own recognizance.
Prosecutors looked into the matter and convened a grand jury. Following the indictment, a warrant was issued and police arrested Oswalt about 10:45 p.m. Tuesday at his home, said Lt. Cord Wood.
Oswalt and another man who has not been identified are accused of affixing the stickers to cars at the First Alternative Natural Foods Co-op on June 17. The stickers read "Racism is a horrible disease. You catch it from n-----s." The stickers were placed on cars belonging to members of a group called Showing Up for Racial Justice, which was meeting at the co-op.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Ryan Joslin called the alleged act a hate crime “inspired by ignorance and fueled by racism.”
According to the indictment, Oswalt acted with one or more people to tamper or interfere with property by applying the stickers to the cars “with intent to cause substantial inconvenience to another because of the defendant’s perception of another’s race.”
More than 50 people belonging to groups including Showing Up for Racial Justice, Indivisible Benton County and the NAACP Corvallis/Albany Branch attended the Wednesday court hearing, packing the room. Many of the attendees wore stickers reading “Black Lives Matter,” “No Hate” and “No Nazis in Corvallis.”
“This sends out a serious message that the community is not going to stand for it,” said Frederick J. Edwards, president of the local NAACP branch. “We’re all going to stick together and say we’re not going to hate. Hopefully, they’ll get the message sooner than later, but we can only hope that they see that this is wrong.”
Edwards commended the District Attorney’s office for charging Oswalt with a hate crime.
“It was a good day in the name of justice, I think,” he said.
Edwards said his group is talking about hosting an event called Coming to the Table, where different groups could gather for dialogue. He also suggested Oswalt, if he is found guilty, be required to participate in discussions about race and diversity.
Oswalt appeared at the hearing via video conference from the Benton County Jail. He did not enter a plea to the charges.
Joslin asked for $250,000 security in the case. Judge Carol Bispham approved the bail amount. The judge also approved several release conditions suggested by the prosecutor, including that Oswalt have no contact with any members of Showing Up for Racial Justice and have no contact with Oregon State University because the student who reported Oswalt after seeing photos of the alleged crime is a former OSU student.
The judge also required Oswalt to surrender any firearms in his possession should he be released from jail. Joslin had said he knows Oswalt owns multiple guns. Joslin said that Oswalt has a propensity toward violence and therefore should surrender his firearms.
Oswalt initially told the judge he did not wish to apply for a court-appointed attorney but that he did want to speak with a lawyer. However, after hearing the amount of security imposed in his case, Oswalt said he wanted to apply for an appointed attorney. The judge scheduled a hearing at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday for Oswalt to appear with a court-appointed attorney if he qualifies for one.
Oswalt is a graduate representative in the Associated Students of Oregon State University's (ASOSU) House of Representatives. He is the subject of a recall vote in the ASOSU election beginning Feb. 12 and ending Feb. 16. If two-thirds of voting OSU students elect to remove Oswalt from office, he will lose his seat as graduate representative in the House of Representatives. Oswalt is also running for re-election for his seat for next school year in the same election, which allows students to vote online until 10 p.m. Feb. 16.
Since last fall, Oswalt has been displaying a Confederate flag in a window inside his room at The Pillar. Oswalt is a tenant of the property at 2323 NW Monroe Ave., which is owned by the Assemblies of God and managed by Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship. The top two floors of The Pillar, where Oswalt lives, are a men’s co-op that is unaffiliated with Chi Alpha and nonreligious in nature, according to Chi Alpha.
Chi Alpha said in a statement in September the student displaying the flag had been asked to remove it but had refused.
“We are currently exploring our options under the law to have this remedied as soon as possible,” the statement read.
Beth Chambers, who is affiliated with Chi Alpha at OSU, said Tuesday the ministry’s September statement was still current. She did not offer further comment.
“Chi Alpha wholly rejects any racist implications of this action and welcomes students from all backgrounds,” the campus ministry stated.
According to a Corvallis police officer’s affidavit in support of a search warrant dated Jan. 19, the room in which Oswalt lives at The Pillar had a Confederate flag hanging from the south-facing window and a Cascadia flag hanging from the west-facing window.
Members of the Cascadian Movement announced last year they had formed the Cascadia Coalition Against Hate in response to hate groups using the Cascadia name and icon. The Cascadian Movement highlights the regional and cultural identity of the Cascadia bioregion in the Pacific Northwest.
“We do not tolerate hate-filled ideology, supremacy, oppression or hatred in any form for any reason. Moreover, we outright condemn all hate groups, their actions and ideals, as they run contrary to the core Cascadian bioregional beliefs and tenets,” the Cascadia Coalition Against Hate states. “These groups threaten to undermine the sacred relationship between biodiversity and nature, which is the crux of life.”