Private investigators hired by Bates College to look into complaints that security officers mishandled a confrontation with a black student at a May 13 dance on campus determined that the officers acted appropriately in difficult circumstances.

The probe, detailed in a six-page report released this week by the college, found that one student had engaged in disorderly conduct but neither he nor the officers will face any disciplinary action.

College President Clayton Spencer, in an open letter, called the events of that night distressing and indicative of racial issues the school needs to address. She outlined a series of actions that Bates plans to take in response.

Spencer said the college ordered the report from “two independent investigators with higher education and civil rights experience” in the wake of the incident “because of the complexity of the situation and the varying accounts of what happened.”

They were asked to find out exactly what happened and assess whether Bates security officers acted reasonably, as well as to figure what role race played.

In their report, the investigators said they interviewed 30 people, including the student who had been handcuffed, 13 other student witnesses, security personnel and others who had direct knowledge of what transpired at the dance at the Mays Center just before midnight on a Saturday night.

What they found stood in contrast to the allegations made by angry students who charged that incompetent officers had used excessive force.

As Spencer summarized it, the report “concluded that security officers did not engage in racial discrimination in their actions, but that race played a role in the overall incident in the way that all parties — students, event staff and security officers — interacted with one another.”

“There was racial tension surrounding the dance before it started, and it escalated as the night went on, notwithstanding attempts, at various points, by both students and security officers to calm the situation down,” Spencer said in her June 14 letter to the Bates community.

THE INCIDENT

The dance where the incident occurred was planned as a three-hour, no-alcohol event in the Mays Center starting at 11 p.m. on Saturday, May 13.

About the time the dance was to begin, officers shut down a party attended by many minority students, some of whom got upset because a nearby loud party attended by many white students hadn’t received similar treatment. An officer who went to the other spot merely told students to get their beer-pong tables out of the hall and to quiet down, according to the report.

Among those angered by the move was a black male referred to in the report as Student A, who headed for the dance as an alternative.

Three officers did a routine walk-through of the dance at 11:45 p.m., where they were confronted by the student organizer, a woman, who told them she didn’t appreciate their presence.

Six minutes later, one of the two event support assistants in attendance phoned security because she saw a white male student drinking in a restroom. Two officers responded and found only a beer sitting by the sink, which they dumped.

At nearly the same time, the other event support assistant wound up in “a heated exchange” with Student A because she sought to keep a dim light on a door where she thought she saw something suspicious going on. At midnight, at her request, an officer showed up to help her get the light on.

Things quickly escalated, with Student A yelling and “frantic,” appearing to an unnamed student witness as ready “to take a stand,” the report stated.

The officer asked Student A “to step outside so they could talk about why he was so upset.”

“I am not going anywhere with you,” the student responded. His friends asked the officer if they could handle it so the officer stepped aside to let them move closer.

Then two more officers showed up. One of them put a hand on Student A’s shoulder and asked him to calm down. The student told the officer not to touch him.

Student A “was rocking back and forth with balled fists” at his side, investigators said, and continued yelling despite requests that he calm down.

When the student turned his shoulders to the right, one of the officers was afraid he intended to punch the other, so he stepped in and put the student “in a hold to prevent a punch” that witnesses described as a headlock, the report said.

Student A broke free, however, and then both officers tried to restrain him. “They lost their footing and all three went to the ground,” the report said, with the student landing atop one of the officers. At that point, officers handcuffed the student.

All around them were other students screaming that officers were going to kill Student A, the report stated, while the four officers at the scene feared for their own safety.

During the next 20 minutes, Lewiston police and the dean of students showed up. After talking with everyone, they agreed there was no reason to arrest Student A and the handcuffs were taken off. The student left and went to a friend’s room without any further fuss.

THE AFTERMATH

The investigators determined Student A had engaged in disorderly conduct, but there had been no assault or intimidation.

The officers generally complied with policy guidelines and did what they could to defuse the situation, the report said. It also said the white officers who kept Student A in handcuffs while he knelt outside did not intend any disrespect, as some charged. There were apparently many pictures and videos taken, but they were not released.

The investigation concluded that security officers “did not engage in racial discrimination,” but that race played a key role in how the participants interacted.

“There was racial tension surrounding the dance before it even started” due to the breakup of the party elsewhere “and it escalated as the night went on,” it said.

“Many students arrived already upset” by what they perceived as “disparate treatment by security officers at private parties” earlier.

It didn’t help either that the white event support assistants and students lacked “comfort and familiarity with each other” and their respective roles, which led to security being called twice.

When officers arrived, students made it clear they were not welcome. The officers didn’t know the students, which made it harder to calm things down.

The investigators recommended Bates consider a different staffing model for events and better training for security personnel.

Spencer, who agreed, also took a broader look.

She said the incident and responses to it “have brought to the surface other, pre-existing issues involving race and campus climate that are of deep concern to me personally and to many members of the Bates community.”

Spencer said students pressed their point with peaceful protests, written pleas and a teach-in. “I appreciate the thoughtfulness and sense of urgency with which students have undertaken the work of bringing these issues to the fore, as well as the support and common cause expressed by members of the Bates community on campus and beyond,” she said.

“As much as we might wish it were otherwise, my many conversations with students of color at Bates underscore that the issues they have raised are real and personal and painful, and they cut across all dimensions of the student experience.”

“College is about realizing one’s dreams. But too many of our students — whom we have invited to be part of this community because they are motivated, talented and have much to offer — have experiences at Bates that leave them feeling devalued or discouraged.”

As a result, she said, she is taking seriously their call to action, promising both short- and long-term reforms.

REFORMS

Spencer said Bates will immediately “undertake a series of measures aimed at improving the way we manage events and the way the Department of Security and Campus Safety frames and carries out its interactions with students” to foster better relations between officers and all students.

Students are also going to participate in the search committee for a new director of security, an opening that is coincidental to the furor over the handcuffing of a student.

More training and staffing changes are also in the works.

Over the long haul, Spencer said, Bates will continue its effort “to diversify our faculty and student body and to create a more inclusive campus culture that supports all students for full participation in the life of the college.”

“We have made demonstrable progress, but, as I have said many times, we still have a long way to go,” Spencer said.

“Because Bates is part of a larger social context in which race continues to play a powerful role, our work as a college will necessarily be imperfect,” she said. “But we will continue to work as hard and effectively as possible to close the gap between the founding ideals of Bates and the lived experience of all of our students.”


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