SU Public Safety Officers Push Back Against Claims of Misconduct Against Students in Race Protest

Feb 27, 2020

SU Public Safety Deputy Chief John Sardino surrounded by students at recent NotAgainSU protest on campus. Officers disputing claims of misconduct against students.
Credit Twitter.com

The union representing Syracuse University public safety officers is challenging claims of misconduct against student protestors that are port of the ongoing Not Again SU movement.  

A letter from Council 82, the NYS Law Enforcement Officers Union, disputes charges that they locked students in the Crouse Hinds Hall administration building, kept them from food or hygiene items, or otherwise inflicted harm on students. (Text of letter below)

The statement in particular responds to a letter form several of the protestors’ parents that they were unable to leave.

“Contrary to the letter, students occupying Crouse-Hinds Hall were free to leave at any time. In fact, they were asked to leave several times and not to occupy the building whatsoever,” the letter states.

At times during the sit-in occupation of the building students were told they could leave, but would not be let back in.  They were given the option to continue a round-the-clock protest in the campus library, which remains open 24 hours-a-day.  Since then, Chancellor Kent Syverud has ordered the protestors be allowed to continue their actions without such restrictions.

'DPS Union:Students fabricated negative image that's inaccurate'

The DPS union counters that instead of officers mistreating students, they had been the subject of physical violence, including pushing and shoving as officers tried to secure the building. The message also refers to an incident on video where some students tried to disarm a DPS official.

“…students using force against the DPS Chief where he had to resort to his training, utilizing weapons retention techniques, because students were touching his firearms and attempting to disarm him,” said the letter.

Students have charged DPS officials with intimidation and insensitivity.  Calls have been made for the resignation of DPS Chief Bobby Maldonado.  Syverud recently announced former US Attorney General Loretta Lynch will conduct a review of the department and its practices in dealing with students, which was criticized by some of the students as worthless.  A faculty group in support of the protestors charged officers with demonizing and criminalizing students, calling the armed guards.

The union adds the SU officers have undergone trainings on implicit bias, on unconscious bias, and a training on policing and race presented by SU Professor of Religion Biko Mandela Gray, who has been an advisor to the students throughout the Not Again SU protests. 

Protestors escalated actions Wednesday night when they blocked traffic with a sit-in circle and gathering at the corner of Waverly and South Crouse Aves.  It was the first time protest actions disrupted the community off campus.  Several students have been trying to set up a negotiating meeting with SU administration, but terms of such a meeting have not been agreed upon and no meeting time had been set as of noon Thursday.

ENTIRE TEXT OF LETTER FROM DPS UNION

Dear Chancellor Syverud, Recent events occurring at Syracuse University (SU) and the response to those events have compelled us, the officers working in the University’s Department of Public Safety (DPS), to reach out to you. We would like to set the record straight.

The movement known as “#NOTAGAINSU” has fabricated a negative image of the DPS that is not only totally inaccurate, but also completely contrary to the purpose of the DPS. The DPS officers work around the clock, 365 days a year, often in shifts running over 18 hours a day, to keep the SU community safe. We stand by the DPS mission and vision to maintain a safe, secure learning and living environment on the SU campus and in the areas surrounding the campus.

However, events over the past several weeks such as what occurred recently at Crouse-Hinds Hall have made it difficult for the DPS to maintain its mission. This is not because the events occurred, but rather because SU has prohibited the DPS officers from carrying out our duties during these events. At Crouse-Hinds Hall for example, DPS was acting at all times under the orders of yourself and senior administrators for SU regarding how to handle the protest. At no time did any DPS Administrators or officers make anydecisions for how to handle the protest.

Further, parents of students involved in #NOTAGAINSU wrote a letter attached hereto providing a false portrayal of what took place at Crouse-Hinds Hall (See Attachment 1). Contrary to the letter, students occupying Crouse-Hinds Hall were free to leave at any time. In fact, they were asked to leave several times and not to occupy the building whatsoever. The DPS officers on duty were verbally abused and had food and other items thrown at them. Some students used physical force and pushed officers as they were trying to secure the building. Other students depicted in a photograph attached hereto directed a poster at one of our African American officers which stated “Our worst fear a Coon.” (See Attachment 2). The attached video link even shows students using force against the DPS Chief where he had to resort to his training utilizing weapons retention techniques because students were touching his firearms and attempting to disarm him. [1] This type of behavior by the students demonstrates a depraved indifference to law and order and has created not only an unsafe work environment for the officers, but also an unsafe environment for the SU community as well.

The DPS officers are continually attending trainings and kept up to date on trends within the policing world and communities in order to make us the best officers we can be. For example, on November 22, 2016, the DPS officers attended the training “Implicit Bias” presented by Dr. Bryant Marks. [2] On July 11, 2019, the DPS officers attended the training by the Learner’s Group, LLC called “Moving Beyond Unconscious Bias” presented by Rodney Patterson (President & CEO) and Lisa Summerour (Senior VP of Consulting Services). More recently, the DPS officers attended a training presented by SU Assistant Professor of Religion, Biko Mandela Gray, called “Policing: Past, Present  & Future.” The DPS officers welcomed Professor Gray to present this training. However, Gray has been actively vocal with the students involved in #NOTAGAINSU on his twitter feed (@BikoMandelaGray) making such comments as:

“I never, ever, EVER want to hear ‘build trust between communities and law enforcement’ again. If you’re one of the #Notallcops people, I don’t want to hear it. We’re literally watching the formation of a police state occur.” [3]

The message Gray is tweeting contradicts the training he presented to the DPS and only serves  to  destroy  the  bridges  we  have  tried  to  build  between  the  DPS  and  the  SU community.

In short, the lack of respect towards law enforcement being fostered by SU is tragic. Such behaviors if they occurred outside of SU, would no doubt result in arrests being made. The DPS officers can no longer tolerate being treated this way. To allow students to continue to behave this way without understanding that there could be serious consequences or repercussions only serves to create a hostile and volatile environment at SU that needs only a proverbial match to be stricken to cause an explosion. To ignore such student behavior or by allowing it to continue unchecked rises to the level of gross negligence. We implore you to allow the DPS officers to do their jobs to keep SU and ourselves safe. As always, we stand with our Chief and remain ready to follow his decisions and orders.

Respectfully submitted,The SU DPS Officers Union, Local 432 of the NYS Law Enforcement Officers Union Council 82, AFSCME, AFL-CIO

Related Sources:[1]. Students attempting to push and disarm DPS Officer:<https://twitter.com/TayaraRomero/status/1229818879221870592?s=20> [2]. Mbuqe, Ellen (2016). Law Enforcement Officers Take Part in Training on Implicit Bias. Syracuse University News.< https://news.syr.edu/blog/2016/11/23/law-enforcement-officers-take-part-in-training- on-implicit-bias-33328/> [3]. Biko Mandela Gray (Feb 18).<https://twitter.com/BikoMandelaGray?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Eauthor>