Police brutality charge, reaction mirror ’02 incident

Students, then and now, allege racial profiling

Friday, September 22, 2006

The racially charged allegation of police brutality made last week by a Brown graduate student recalls a 2002 incident in which two black students were arrested on the Main Green after refusing to show their identifications to Brown police officers.

The 2002 incident that generated allegations of racial profiling intensified an already heated campus debate about the arming of the Brown police and, according to a Brown Alumni Monthly article from 2002, caused President Ruth Simmons to “quickly (find) herself faced with her first true taste of campus upheaval.”

A review instituted after the 2002 incident resulted in many of the same reforms University officials announced yesterday in response to last week’s allegations of police misconduct. Those reforms include maintaining better records of who Brown police officers stop and a renewed focus on officer training.

Around 3 p.m. on March 8, 2002, a Brown University Police and Security officer stationed outside the post office in Faunce House stopped Michael Smith ’05 and David Williams ’05 and asked for identification to determine if they were Brown students, The Herald reported after the incident.

(BUPS changed its name in 2002 to the Department of Public Safety.)

The two students responded to the officer’s request by saying, “Why do you need to know?” and kept walking toward Leeds Theater, Paul Verrecchia, then the BUPS chief of police, told The Herald on the night of the incident. The officer repeated his request, and one of the students responded, “I don’t need to show you shit.”

Verrecchia said the officer then called for backup because the students never stopped, were cursing and being “disrespectful.” Later, Mark Nickel, then the director of the Brown News Service and currently director of University communications, told The Herald the students were using “abusive and rude language.”

According to witness accounts, three BUPS officers followed the students and exchanged heated words with them. One witness told The Herald that Williams said to the officers, “Fuck the police, get off me, and until you ask everyone here for their ID, I don’t have to show you mine. … You’re just doing this because I am black. … I pay money to go here, you can’t fucking do this to me.” Witnesses also reported that one of the officers said “Yo mamma” back to the students.

Some witnesses said they had attempted to approach the officers and inform them that Williams and Smith were Brown students but were ignored. “I don’t think they had very good communication between the officers,” one witness said.

Verrecchia said one of the students then pushed a BUPS sergeant, and the other student jumped onto the sergeant’s back. Some witnesses confirmed Verrecchia’s account, but others told The Herald that the students didn’t push the officers.

The confrontation between the students and officers continued to escalate. By the time the students were arrested outside Sayles Hall – Williams was forced to the ground and Smith was pushed onto a bench, according to witness accounts – about five additional officers had joined the scene and a crowd of some 50 people had formed.

Officers had been posted outside Faunce since the beginning of that semester because of several incidents of vandalism involving local high school students. Verrecchia said the two Brown students were stopped by the BUPS officer because their route mirrored the path typically used by the high school students.

A combination of the time of day, the students’ age, the route they were walking and their attitude led the officer to ask for the students’ identification, said Laura Fried, then executive vice president for University affairs and public relations.

Offense No. VII in the University’s Standards of Student Conduct is “failing to comply with the proper directive(s) of a University official, including refusing to identify oneself or refusing to present University identification to a University staff member, including members of the Department of Public Safety.”

According to the rule, “There are many occasions, including … cases of suspected unlawful conduct, when it is especially important that authorized personnel be able to identify members of the Brown University community.”

That rule was in place in 2002 and still exists in the same language today.

The 2002 incident occurred just three days before William Bratton, the former New York City police commissioner, began working with the University as a consultant to improve campus safety and investigate whether Brown police officers should be armed. Bratton also subcontracted Paul Johnson, former chief of police at Harvard University and an expert on policing at private universities.

The allegations of racial profiling and the possibility of arming the Brown police sparked intense debate on campus. On March 11, 2002, some 60 students packed Wilson 301 for an open meeting attended by Simmons to discuss racial profiling, the arming of Brown officers and Bratton’s study.

At that meeting, Simmons emphatically said she believes racial profiling is wrong. “It is absolutely, categorically improper for anyone at Brown to do that,” she said, adding that she wants to “eradicate any semblance of racial profiling on campus.” Simmons also said her son, who has dreadlocks, has been stopped by police because of his race.

Then-Vice President for Finance and Administration Donald Reaves announced Mar. 15, 2002, that two official complaints, one alleging racial profiling and the other claiming that police used excessive force, had been filed against BUPS in the aftermath of the Main Green arrests.

Reaves said the University hired two outside consultants – Johnson and William Morrissette, a forensic investigator for the firm Intuition – to look into how the University handled the incident on the Main Green. That review was separate and independent of the campus safety review being undertaken simultaneously by Bratton, Reaves said.

As a result of that review, DPS maintained better logs of people its officers stopped, increased officer training and added more sergeants to campus patrols, The Herald reported Sept. 6, 2002.

Bratton’s study ended in a series of recommendations that ultimately led to Simmons’ decision in December 2003 to arm DPS officers. After a two-year implementation and training process, DPS officers began carrying firearms in January 2006.

This month, Chipalo Street ’06 GS, a computer science master’s student, was arrested on Thayer Street in the early morning hours of Sept. 10 after a confrontation and scuffle with Brown Department of Public Safety and Providence Police Department officers.

The only official details from University administrators about the incident came Sept. 12 in a campus-wide e-mail from Simmons and Interim Vice President for Campus Life and Student Services Russell Carey ’91 MA’06.

According to that e-mail, DPS officers responded at approximately 3:20 a.m. that morning to “a report of two unknown males attempting to gain entry into a residence hall.” After the officers asked the two men for identification, one of the males, Street, “walked away from the scene” and “was subsequently intercepted by Brown and Providence Police officers at the intersection of Waterman and Thayer Streets.”

What happened next is not entirely clear and, according to the campus-wide e-mail, is the subject of an investigation being undertaken by Brown Chief of Police Mark Porter.

At a Sept. 11 gathering in Harambee House, Street said he and a friend were asked for their Brown IDs by several police officers they encountered at Wayland Arch. After he refused to present his ID and continued walking, he was tackled from behind at the intersection of Thayer and Waterman streets, Street told the approximately 100 students at the gathering. He said officers then assaulted him and used pepper spray before taking him into PPD custody.

The PPD report of Street’s arrest indicates that Street fled on foot when a DPS officer approached him and another student to determine if they belonged on University property. PPD and DPS officers located Street shortly thereafter walking on the sidewalk at Angell and Thayer streets.

When a PPD officer attempted to stop Street, he resisted, ignored the officer’s commands and struck the officer’s arms with his hands, according to the PPD report. The PPD officer, with the assistance of another PPD officer and a DPS officer, then forced Street to the ground.

“Police were wrestling with Street for approximately 20 seconds before bringing him to the ground,” the report states. “Once on the ground, Street … refused to comply with numerous police commands to put his hands behind his back. Police repeated instructions to stop resisting and eventually were able to handcuff Street.”

Street was then taken to Roger Williams Hospital for treatment for an “abrasion above his eye that he sustained while being taken to the ground.” Police could smell “the presence of an intoxicating beverage” while Street was in the backseat of the police car, the report states.

Street was arraigned Sept. 12 on misdemeanor charges of assault of an officer and resisting arrest.

The Sept. 12 campus-wide e-mail from Simmons and Carey also mentioned a second incident that occurred off-campus that same weekend. In that incident, PPD officers “directed a Brown University student who was driving his vehicle along the route to move aside so that the Providence Police vehicles could pass.” After the student allegedly did not move aside, “the situation escalated to the point where officers used force in effecting his arrest,” according to the e-mail, which cited a PPD report.

The e-mail continued: “The student has alleged police misconduct in this incident. The University is providing the student with full support including information regarding how to file a complaint with the Providence Police Department.”

No other details about that incident have been made available.

U. announces responses to alleged police misconductAdministrators Thursday announced the first formal steps the University is taking in response to allegations of police misconduct made last week by two Brown students arrested in separate incidents.

The University will disseminate information about Department of Public Safety policies and procedures, monitor data collected each time an officer confronts community members and increase awareness about diversity-related training for DPS officers, according to a campus-wide e-mail sent by Interim Vice President for Campus Life and Student Services Russell Carey ’91 MA’06, Vice President for Administration Walter Hunter and Associate Provost and Director of Institutional Diversity Brenda Allen.

The administrators wrote in the e-mail that investigations into the “two matters involving Brown graduate students and allegations of misconduct by both officers of the Providence Police Department (PPD) and Brown’s Department of Public Safety (DPS)” remain ongoing.

The bulk of the initiatives outlined in the announcement involve increasing discussion and public awareness of DPS practices. No specific policy changes were announced.

University officials intend to publish a guide to individual rights and responsibilities which will state “clearly and precisely the policies and expectations for officials and for those who are stopped,” the administrators said in the e-mail.

The administrators also reminded students that “they are required to present identification when requested to do so by a University official, including by a Public Safety Officer.”

DPS’ Public Safety Outreach Committee will make recommendations about new public awareness initiatives, including possible forums between DPS officials and first-year students modeled after existing meetings held between students and DPS as part of the Third World Transition Program, according to the e-mail.

DPS will also increase visibility of its diversity training program by publishing its “diversity training mission and goals” on its Web site.

Responding to student concerns about whether members of certain racial, gender or socioeconomic groups get stopped by DPS officers more often than others, the PSOC will review data regarding DPS activities.

“The Department of Public Safety records every field contact made by a DPS officer with a community member, contact which must be conducted in accordance with DPS policies and procedures,” the administrators wrote in the e-mail. “The data recorded includes the reason for the contact and the race and gender of the person stopped.”

The PSOC advises the vice president for administration and chief of police and makes recommendations about DPS practices, policies and procedures, according to the DPS Web site. The committee comprises undergrads, medical students, grad students, faculty, administrators, two DPS employees and two people from outside the University.

In a campus-wide e-mail sent Sept. 12, President Ruth Simmons and Carey provided information about the two separate incidents. In the first incident, Chipalo Street ’06 GS was forced to the ground by DPS and PPD officers and arrested by PPD after fleeing from a DPS officer who asked him to identify himself. Street has made “serious allegations of police misconduct,” according to the campus-wide e-mail.

The two PPD officers involved in the incident were “working at the time on a paid University detail,” according to the Sept. 12 campus-wide e-mail. Porter will assess the arrangement between the PPD and the University and make a recommendation to University officials as to whether it should continue, Simmons and Carey wrote.

Yesterday’s more detailed e-mail about the response to these incidents made no mention of the investigation into PPD’s presence on campus.

The second incident, which occurred the same weekend, took place off-campus and involved only PPD officers. According to the Sept. 12 campus-wide e-mail, “the situation escalated to the point where officers used force in effecting (the student’s) arrest.”

“The student has alleged police misconduct in this incident,” Simmons and Carey wrote in the e-mail.