NORWALK - Daniel Beckham has a hard time sleeping at night these days. Homeless and jobless for nearly seven months, the former Marine and Cerritos College students says his life feels like a nightmare that he can't seem to wake up from.
"I feel older than 25 -- I feel worn down and unhealthy. I can't eat, I've lost weight...sometimes I even contemplate jumping off a bridge," he said.
Unfortunately, it wouldn't be the first time Beckham has attempted to take his own life since Cerritos College administrators accused him of hacking into the school's online database and changing the grades of several students last May.
Now the Los Angeles District Attorney's office is charging Beckham with 12 felony counts and demanding $35,000 in damages, but the former student volunteer insists he is innocent and he's not alone. More than 150 people have signed a growing online petition demanding the case against Beckham be dismissed.
"Everyone is entitled to a fair trial, entitled to their rights and I feel this situation was handled unfairly," said Beckham, who was deemed responsible by college administrators after they interviewed several students on campus. "I felt very discriminated against. They didn't want to hear me out -- what happened to caring about the well-being of the students?"
On May 6, 2013, Beckham says campus police escorted him out of the Disabled Students Programs and Services office where he worked, assisting students with special needs, and detained him along with other suspected students.
"I'm not a lawyer, but whenever a cop uses intimidation, that's a form of malice," he said. "They threatened to send me to prison, but I refused to answer any questions without an attorney present."
Beckham says the campus police also confiscated his belongings, including his bag and laptop, without a warrant. The DA's office soon filed criminal charges against him -- eight counts of destruction of government property and four counts of burglary.
No bail was set for Beckham and he was released on his own recognizance, but he says public defenders will not reveal what evidence Cerritos College discovered and are pushing him to settle for a plea bargain of 90 days in jail and three years probation.
"The public defender told me to take the deal, but he's never given me the opportunity to defend myself," Beckham said. "I want to be proven innocent. I want the real person [responsible] to go through litigation."
And Beckham believes he knows the identity of the true mastermind behind the grade changes. In saved e-mail and text message exchanges from last year, Beckham says a Cerritos College student confessed to stealing faculty login information from Beckham's campus job and using it to altar grades.
"I changed the grades because I was doing it for the money. I'm a baller and we gotta play da game son," reads a text message sent to Beckham on Oct. 21. "You guys shouldn't leave admin information where students can jack em."
The message continues: "You is stupid and so is [redacted]. You think I'm going to admit to anything? I haven't even been convicted yet."
Beckham also provided threatening e-mails he said the student sent him in the months following the hacking scandal.
"There's no doubt that I deserve some guilt -- he was gloating about [changing grades], but I wanted to stay out of it," Beckham admitted. "On the night the school system was hacked, I was at home asleep. My roommate and landlord can vouch for that. I've never had any prior convictions, I wouldn't have done this."
Cerritos College, however, is standing by their decision, confident that their investigation was thorough and accurate.
Dr. Stephen Johnson, vice-president of student affairs at the college, would not confirm what evidence proved Beckham's involvement, but he maintained that the grade changes only affected a small number of student records.
"We take matters of academic integrity very seriously so as a result there was a wide-ranging investigation into the changes in student records. All of the students affected have been identified and interviewed," Johnson said.
"All of the information in this case was submitted in a criminal complaint to the Los Angeles District Attorney's office. Our campus police is a sworn police department and conducts its investigations lawfully and takes its responsibility seriously."
Beckham, nonetheless, believes he's been singled out to take the fall for a crime he didn't commit.
"I can't get a job because of the charges on my record. Right now I live in my car. My only support is friends and Holy Family Catholic Church in Artesia. A priest has been helping me with food and some of the resources I need," he said.
Friends have also begun rallying members of the community through an online petition on change.org and by contacting the Norwalk City Council and Congresswoman Linda Sanchez, who agreed to look into the matter.
So far Beckham's court dates have all turned into continuations, giving the Missouri native more time to plead his case -- and stay out of custody.
********** Published: Jan. 16, 2014 - Volume 12 - Issue 40