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Students Spark OEDI Investigation of Police

by James Mainier

Photo by Leela Ekambarapu for The Pitt News.

Students have alleged that Pitt-Greensburg Police treat students of color, particularly Black students, inappropriately on campus, leading Pitt-Greensburg’s administration to request that the Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (OEDI) investigate these allegations.

*Due to the sensitive nature of this story and the potential risk for retaliation, students’ names and pronouns have been changed. 

Michelle*, a Pitt-Greensburg student, says that she witnessed a campus police officer attempt to pressure a resident to go to the hospital in an ambulance while the resident was having a mental health crisis. The resident wanted to seek medical attention but did not feel comfortable going in an ambulance. Michelle says she tried to advocate for the other resident while they were in distress. 

“We got into an argument [with the police], and I was trying to protect [the resident]. I was going to drive [the resident] to the hospital,” Michelle says. “The officer got louder and louder. … He ended up walking to the other side of the dorm. I started talking to another officer calmly, and the other officer started yelling from across the dorm. ‘You need to shut up,’ the officer said. He walked up to my face and said, ‘You don’t know nothing. You need to shut up.’”  

The resident went in an ambulance against their wishes. Both Michelle and the resident are students of color, and she says she felt like the situation should’ve been handled better. The Insider was not present during the event, but other students have corroborated Michelle’s allegations.

“The way [the police] talk to black students and white students is like night and day,” she says.

Rick Fogle, the dean of student services, said that he is aware of this incident and it is being investigated by the OEDI in an email to The Insider

Trevor*, another student, alleges that he was questioned by campus police when his sibling visited his dorm. His sibling, who is 13 years old, flew to campus from out-of-state. Trevor and his sibling are both Latino, and he is concerned that officers treated them unfairly due to their ethnicity.

According to the Pitt-Greensburg handbook, residents are not allowed to host visitors younger than 16 without their parent/guardian present or approval from the Office of Housing and Residence Life. However, Trevor says he arranged for his sibling to stay off-campus with his roommate’s family overnight and explained the situation to Residence Life.

“One of the Resident Directors came to my room at about 8 p.m. or so [that day] and tried to figure out what was going on. I told her, and I thought it was resolved from there,” Trevor says. “There was a miscommunication at most.”

About 30 minutes later, Trevor says the police came to his dorm to investigate.

“They [the police] barged through the door,” he says. “The one officer said, ‘Where’s the minor at?’ … I said, ‘My [sibling]? … [They’re] in my room.’  We were getting ready to leave so I could drop [my sibling] off at my roommate’s family’s household. He kept cutting me off and yelling, making it tough to speak.”

Trevor alleges that the officer kept his hand on his gun holster while questioning him. 

“Me, my roommates, and my little [sibling] were uncomfortable,” he says. “I said, ‘Listen, I don’t know what you are here for. There’s no need for cops to be here.’ And [the officer] said, ‘Well, we got a report that [they’re] a runaway. I want you to get your parents on the phone.’”

Trevor says he explained that he is his sibling’s guardian and they had permission to visit, but the officers insisted that he call their parents. Afterwards, he reported the incident to the chief of police, but Trevor doesn’t know if anything came of the report. The Insider was unable to reach the Pitt-Greensburg Police Lieutenant for comment.

“No one was putting [the officer] in a situation where he has to have his hand on his gun,” Trevor says. “It made my [sibling] uncomfortable. [They] didn’t want to stay anymore, so I flew [them] back home.”

Fogle said in an email that this incident is being investigated as well.

“I am aware of this incident and met with the student involved. I know [them] and believe [they are] credible,” Fogle says. “It is one of the reasons I asked for OEDI to investigate.”

Commander Andrew Redman, a Pitt Police Officer who supervises the regional campus police departments, says the police internally investigated Michelle and Trevor’s complaints last year and declined to comment further. 

These investigations are listed under case numbers 2021-7 and 2021-8 in the police department’s public internal investigations log. According to the log, the department concluded that both complaints were “not sustained,” meaning that there is not sufficient evidence to prove or disprove the allegations made in the complaint.

Michelle and Sarah*, who are members of the Black Student Union (BSU), also allege that Pitt-Greensburg Police officers approached the BSU when they chanted during the National Anthem at a home basketball game.

Students chanted “They don’t really care about us,” a reference to a popular song about racism by Michael Jackson, twice. Michelle says this was a way for the BSU to make their voices heard.

“Black students are frustrated,” Michelle says. “We don’t like it here. We’ve been having issues with the campus police.”

Michelle says an officer approached them to ask why the BSU was at the game, and she told the officer the club was there to support the basketball team. She alleges the officer repeatedly asked what they were there to do and questioned her responses.

“So I said, ‘what do you want me to say, a riot?’” Michelle says. “The officer said, ‘Well, don’t make me arrest you.’”

Fogle said in an email he was made aware of this incident by Troy Ross, the director of the Office of Housing and Residence Life and the BSU’s faculty advisor. Ross said in an email he did not witness the incident himself but was informed of the event by a student who did. Ross also reported the incident to OEDI.

Fogle says he feels that there is tension between police and students and encouraged students to respond to the OEDI surveys sent via email.

“I am hopeful that OEDI’s investigation will recommend specific actions that will be implemented and address the tension and prevent similar actions from occurring in the future,” he says.

Editor’s note: The Insider is committed to ethical, objective reporting in accordance with the Associated Press’s news values and journalistic standards. This includes the AP’s standards for anonymous sources, which require that we share our reasons for utilizing anonymous information and properly vet all anonymous sources for veracity, trustworthiness, and authenticity. Anonymous sources in this story are indicated with an asterisk (*) upon first reference.

These difficult decisions are made with the utmost care and with the best interest of our readers in mind. Please contact our editor-in-chief with any questions at ATTN: Madison.

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