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March 16, 2013

University launches external investigations of protest incidents

The University has hired an independent investigator to perform external reviews of both the January 27 and February 23 UCMC incidents. The University earlier had pledged an external review of the February 23 incident, with the police actions of January 27, the protest during which four people were arrested, only slated for internal review by the University.

According to an SG blog post, Patricia Brown Holmes will be conducting the independent review of the incidents. Holmes will be investigating “the demonstrations themselves, the planning, protocol and response of University police, and the actions of security officers and deans on call,” according to the blog post.

Holmes, who is a current trial attorney with Schiff Hardin LLP, has conducted government investigations of several incidents, and currently sits on the judicial commission which conducts background checks on federal judge appointees for the northern district of Illinois.

The external review into the February 23 protest had already been announced in a campus-wide e-mail from Provost Thomas Rosenbaum and President Robert Zimmer, but the administration had previously promised only a broad internal UCPD review into the January 27 incident.

At a University-sponsored Open Forum on February 28 discussing the January 27 incident, Steve Kloehn, the Associate Vice President for News and Public Affairs, said that the UCPD was not reviewing specific alleged misconduct by officers because “nobody has made an official complaint.”

Community members at the forum were critical of this policy. “I don’t think the lack of a complaint or non-complaint is necessarily dispositive. The University ought to, upon seeing that footage, have itself demanded an investigation into its own police force,” second-year law student James DuBray said. “The fact that the University does not try to hold those individual officers accountable is I think really reprehensible.”

The announcement comes two days after SG passed a resolution calling for “an open and transparent accounting of what occurred on January 27th.” According to Vice President of SG Yusef Al-Jarani, SG’s push for transparency was influential in the administration's decision to hold an external review.

“In every dialogue we had with the administration this is something we’ve been pushing for on Student Government’s side of things. So I’m sure us projecting student voice into the conversation helped with this,” Al-Jarani said. “I strongly believe we played a substantial role in getting this to happen.”

The resolution also called for a meeting between UChicago Medical Center administrators, SG, Students for Health Equity (SHE), Physicians for a National Health Program (PHNP), three members of campus community service groups, and Fearless Leading for Youth (FLY). This has been a long-standing goal of both FLY and Southsiders Together Organizing for Power (STOP), both of which whose members were present during the protests under investigation. Al-Jarani said that he is hopeful that the meeting can be set up. “We met with a representative of the UCMC, and it seemed like they were open to setting something up, but I won’t really know for certain until we hear from Dean Polonsky and Sharon O’ Keefe,” he said.

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