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September 20, 2010

Reg arrest report: message received?

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Click here to read the Maroon's interview with Craig Futterman, chairman of the Independet Review Committee and a professor in the Law School.

An independent review of the February 25 arrest of Mauriece Dawson (A.B. ‘10) and its fallout has received a terse response from the University Police Department (UCPD), reversing a trend of frank discussion of systemic problems raised by the arrest.

The seventeen-page report, released by the Independent Review Committee (IRC) July 29, was critical of the UCPD, the UCPD’s internal investigation into the incident, Library policy, and Office of Campus and Student Life’s Dean-on-Call program, though it was not critical of the way in which the arrest was made, which many witnesses said was excessively violent.

“The IRC has tried to understand how a relatively trivial and routine occurrence—a passing moment of loud voices in the library—could have precipitated an incident so costly to individuals and the institution,” the report reads in its introduction. “Having closely reviewed the record, we have concluded that errors of judgment and failures to follow established procedures by multiple parties contributed to an outcome no one would have chosen.”

The report, available on the University of Chicago Documents Web page, also contained transcripts based on many interviews detailing, often with reconstructed dialogue, what took place in the Regenstein Library, at UCPD headquarters after Dawson’s arrest, and at County court, where Dawson was arraigned and pled guilty to a count of resisting arrest, believing, the report said, there was no other, viable option, based in large part on the advice of a public defender.

The IRC report focused in large part on the UCPD, whose chief, Marlon Lynch, released a paragraph-long response to the IRC review and told the maroon changes were underway, but would not specify in what way.

The IRC recommended the UCPD operate more transparently, and the relative reserve with which the UCPD has operated is frustrating said Toussaint Losier, a graduate student who has followed the issue closely and is a co-chair of an ad hoc committee investigating the policies that led to the arrest.

“I think it gets to what has been going on in the background about this, the concern that in some parts of the student body, here is a moment where the University has been more concerned about protecting its own institutional interests than in protecting its student. And its own values.”

The UCPD and other groups have conducted internal investigations into what precipitated the arrest, which witnesses considered completely unwarranted and aroused a vocal and angry community response, and reform has already begun in the departments involved.

The IRC review is the only one yet made public, and the only one conducted by a long-standing group independent from those involved in the process. The report was compiled separately from the IRC’s quarterly investigation into all serious complaints about UCPD activity on two counts. It noted institutional inertia that seemed to push its officer to confront Dawson in the Regenstein (when the officer was acting only on the word of the Library clerk who called in the complaint and did not himself witness any inappropriate behavior himself) and for the department to charge Dawson with a crime when there may have been other options available at the time.

It also took issue with the department’s failure to fully document its own investigation, even up to its own standards, and a lack of urgency in investigating the matter from the outset. “It should also be noted that no effort was made at the time, in the context of determining whether to charge, to investigate the incident, despite its obvious sensitivity and the fact that multiple witnesses were available,” the report reads.

It did explain that the officer’s conduct was appropriate once he decided to make the arrest, and that, while the arrest seemed violent to observers, who said Dawson was put in a choke-hold, it was in reality a well-executed and safe take down maneuver that police officers are trained to use in such situations.

Chief of Police Marlon Lynch responded in a letter addressed to the members of the IRC and dated July 29. He wrote that he read the review and thanked the IRC for its work.

“The University of Chicago Police Department had already begun addressing a number of elements you cite in the review,” the response reads. “My leadership and I will carefully consider the other recommendations as we look for ways to continue to improve our policies and practices. And as you know, in response to this particular case, UCPD has been working closely with Campus and Student Life, the Library, other administrative units, students and faculty members to address a wide variety of issues that have come to light. I appreciate your contributions to that effort.”

Lynch, who is also the associate vice president for Safety and Securty said in a phone interview that he would not comment further, wanting the statement to stand for itself.

He did respond to the IRC’s criticism that the UCPD did not keep records of its interviews with witnesses. “There’s more than one way to conduct an interview and transcripts is one way, submitted written statements is another, face to face interviews is another...there is not one prescribed way to do an interview,” he said.

He added, “based on the circumstances on what we were asked to complete, an investigation [was undertaken] as soon as possible.”

Lynch also noted that officers were retrained, that the Office of Campus and Student Life and UCPD were working together on increasing communication (a liaison position between the two groups has already been established), and mentioned a document on “ways to interact with the UCPD” that would be issued at the beginning of fall quarter jointly by the UCPD and Office of Campus and Student Life.

But he made no mention of what specifically was being changed or what the retraining was, nor has there been any public acknowledgement since summer began that any part of the process has required updating. By contrast, in the weeks following the arrest, Lynch made a point of discussing with students what he knew in his capacity as police chief, and especially at passionate, packed open forums.

Losier was frustrated by the UCPD’s reserved response. “There was no mention of what issues have been taken up, how they’ve been taken up, the issues raised around transparency in the report, and around the process of investigation taken up around Mauriece’s arrest,” he said in a phone interview.

“Further clarity would be useful just in terms of giving the interested parties a concrete sense in terms of what is the way forward, what are the ways the University as an institution and the different parties to that are learning from what took place when Mauriece was arrested,” Losier said.

Losier pointed out that one of the main points the IRC made was the need for transparency, a sentiment echoed by IRC Chair and law professor Craig Futterman.

Losier said the ad hoc committee on the arrest, for which he is co-chair with Associate Vice President for Campus Life Karen Warren Coleman, would take a long look at the IRC report when it reconvenes at the start of the quarter.

The IRC, whose task is to reassess the findings of the UCPD’s internal investigations into serious complaints, generally concurred with the UCPD that the arresting officer could have avoided using force in the situation, though the arrest was not excessively violent and that responsibility extended beyond the officer. The UCPD’s internal findings were reported in the IRC review, as is the norm.

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