To the editor,During the last semester that I was enrolled in the University of Vermont I was involved in an incident which violated university policies. As part of my sanctions resulting from this incident I have chosen to write a letter to the Cynic discussing what I have learned.
First a quick summary of what occurred. I was in my dorm room late in the evening. A few friends stopped by who were underage, had already been drinking, and had alcohol with them. The music was too loud and UVM police responded to the noise complaint. My first mistake was allowing underage people to come in my room.
Although I was twenty one at the time I was unaware that according to university policy I was responsible for any policy violations that occurred in my room. In other words allowing underage people to drink in my room was equivalent, as far as penalties, to me being underage and consuming alcohol.
My second mistake was playing music so loud that it disturbed others. Obviously I should have been aware that it is against university policy to disturb other students by making noise. Obviously I was scared when I heard the knock at the door and the “UVM police, open up!”
The officer, officer Henry of UVM police services, instructed me to open the door saying, “Everything will be fine, open up and we will just give everyone a warning and let them go home.” Here is where I made my third mistake, assuming that a police officer could not blatantly lie to a student.
I opened my door to go out and speak to the officer. The moment I began to open the door he attempted to force his way into my room. When I asked him what he was doing he ordered me to move over against a wall. I told Officer Henry that there were underage kids in my room that had been drinking, and that I would let him in because he had agreed to give everyone warnings.
When I opened the door officer Henry began breathalyzing everyone in the room and anyone who had been drinking underage received a ticket. No warnings were issued. The next day officer Henry returned to my room. He cuffed me and brought me down to the UVM police station where I was finger printed and issued a civil violation for providing alcohol to minors.
It would be ridiculous for me to claim that anyone in my room should not have been given a ticket for underage drinking. They were underage, they knew the law, and they broke it. It is not, however, acceptable for a police officer, whose job it is to protect and serve the community, to lie to students.
When I attended my disciplinary hearing I discovered that I was being charged by the university with assaulting the police officer, and providing alcohol to minors. I was stunned. All of the people who had entered my room had brought their own alcohol. I had a small amount of alcohol for my own use, which is permitted by the university.
The claims of assault were also false. I read the police report that had been submitted to the university and was amazed at how the officer had described my walking out my door as a series of aggressive movements towards him that constituted assault. This astounded me as it was the officer who was attempting to force his way into my room. Nowhere in the report was there any proof or justification for the charge of providing alcohol to minors.
This police report was falsified. I was later told by some of the students that were present in the room that the police reports for their participation in the incident were also falsified. When I explained the situation to judicial affairs I was told that this was fairly common, and that I would be allowed to refute whatever charges I felt were unwarranted. So in essence the university justice system is the opposite of that of the United States.
There is no burden of proof on the authorities. Instead, authorities may make whatever accusations they see fit, and the burden falls on the accused to prove his or her innocence. It disturbs me that a situation exists where officers with the power to enforce both state laws and university policies are permitted to lie, to make unjustified false accusations and to falsify official documents. Luckily UVM Judicial Affairs believed me when I told them my side of the story and those charges that were false were dropped. I violated university policy. I will not deny this.
I admitted to and paid restitution for my violations of university policy. My behavior affected other members of my community, especially close friends. I was irresponsible. I should have been better informed about the university alcohol policy, and I should not have permitted any violations of that policy to occur. I deserved the punishments I received for my poor judgment. This does not, however, excuse the actions taken by Officer Henry.
I do not fault the officer for doing his job. I fault him for abusing his power. It is both frightening and wrong that an officer of the law, who should be setting an example for the community while enforcing its laws, would act in such a blatantly deceitful manner. University police officers work hard to keep our campus safe, but in exchange for the power we invest in them to do their jobs they should be held to a high standard of responsibility.
Sincerely,Patrick Cassidyclass of 2006