Cal Poly Readying to Turn Protest Police Reports Over to DA


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Students and community members gather outside Siemens Hall amid a standoff between police and protesters occupying the building on April 22. - PHOTO BY ALEXANDER ANDERSON
  • Photo by Alexander Anderson
  • Students and community members gather outside Siemens Hall amid a standoff between police and protesters occupying the building on April 22.
Cal Poly Humboldt’s University Police Department is wrapping up its criminal investigation into the week-long occupation of Siemens Hall by pro-Palestine demonstrators and associated vandalism, and expects to turn the case over to prosecutors tomorrow, a university spokesperson tells the Journal.

At least 33 people were arrested in association with the demonstrations on campus that began April 22 and prompted administrators to shutter the campus, threatening students, faculty and staff who violated the “hard closure” order with citation or arrest. While those arrested were booked into jail on suspicion of trespassing, resisting arrest and unlawful assembly, all have since been released from custody and Humboldt County District Attorney Stacey Eads tells the Journal no charging decisions have yet been made, as she’s still awaiting investigative reports. Cal Poly Humboldt spokesperson Aileen Yoo says those will mostly likely be turned over to Eads’ office tomorrow.

At its May 7 meeting, the Cal Poly Humboldt University Senate voted overwhelmingly to pass a resolution calling on Eads not to prosecute the students and professor arrested during the protests.

The university is in the process of re-opening the campus, having started with a “soft opening” May 13 that allowed employees whose work necessitates it to come to campus, with a full re-opening scheduled for May 28, when summer instruction will begin.

Student disciplinary procedures related to the protests, meanwhile, remain ongoing.

According to university spokespeople, a total of 77 students were issued interim suspension letters related to protest activities. The Journal has repeatedly asked the university for specifics about these suspension notices — including what policies the students were alleged to have violated, how the students were identified and for numbers on how many suspensions have been upheld or overturned — but the university has declined to answer, citing protections in the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act. (It should be noted that the law is designed to protect personal privacy and the Journal did not inquire about any specific case but a batch of dozens.)

Gabi Kirk, an assistant professor of geography who has been helping students who received interim suspension notices navigate the process, says it has been irregular.

Kirk says initially 72 interim suspension notices were sent out, but those included several duplicates, leaving 69 students affected.

The initial batch of interim suspension notices — which were signed by Associate Dean of Students Molly Kresl, who reportedly then resigned — was sent out April 26, four days after a group of protesters first entered Siemens Hall, Kirk says. The notices were not sent to students by name, Kirk says, and were sent out under a single case number, accusing students of nine policy violations, including unauthorized entry or misuse of university property, willful disruption of university activities, participating in an activity that infringes on the rights of the campus community, obstruction of pedestrian traffic, conduct that threatens health or safety, damaging university property, violating university rules, failing to comply with the directions of university officials and violating state law while threatening the safety of the university community. The notices warned that students faced suspension or expulsion, as well as being referred to campus police.

Further, the notices advised students that they could not remain on campus or enter university facilities, which Kirk says created chaos for some.

“There were students living in campus dorms who were told they were banned from physically being on campus,” she says. “Those students evacuated. I wouldn’t say they moved out, they left their stuff there. Some were homeless for six days, sleeping on friends’ couches, until the university clarified they could live in the dorms and go to common areas.”

A university spokesperson says the campus restriction was eased to allow students to attend online classes and those living on campus to remain because the school “was trying to provide flexibility because of the extraordinary circumstances, the sheer volume of cases still being investigated and it was the end of the year.”

As to how the students receiving the notices were identified as being suspected of violating school policy, Kirk says it’s not entirely clear.

In an interview with the Journal, CPH Chief of Staff Mark Johnson said some students were identified from video footage — though it’s not clear whether he meant surveillance footage from cameras on campus, video captured by the media or that posted to social media by protesters and onlookers — and “pings” on electronic devices. Kirk says some students were informed they were placed in Siemens Hall by “WiFi logs.” (It should be noted that there are reports of people logging into Siemens Hall WiFi from outside Siemens Hall.)

Of the 69 students who received interim suspension notices, Kirk says 25 have had the allegations against them dropped — 10 because they successfully appealed, and 15 because the university unilaterally dropped them without explanation.

Kirk says that due to the glut of notices, and possibly Kresl’s resignation, the university had to call in conduct officers from other schools to help conduct hearings, adding that she’s heard reports of students showing up for scheduled hearings only to be told they’d been canceled. Others, she says, received notices advising that they could pick up their file with a summary of evidence against them at Siemens Hall, noting the building remains closed and — at least until very recently — designated by the university as a “crime scene.”

The interim suspension notices expired May 12. Kirk says a lot is unclear but she believes students who received them are technically allowed to return to campus, though they still may have disciplinary holds on their accounts, preventing them from registering for classes, accessing financial aid and, in the case of students who have jobs on campus, returning to work.

A university spokesperson says each student who received a letter is able to meet with the Office for Student Rights and Responsibilities or the Dean of Students in order to bring their case to a voluntary resolution, which is the ultimate goal.

“Students who have been alleged to have violated the student code of conduct have informal discussions with the Dean of Students office,” she says. “These discussions are meant to help the student understand why the policy may have been violated and to better understand the student’s side of the story. The goal is to reach a resolution agreement regarding responsibility and sanctions. Depending on the discussion, a resolution agreement can be achieved. If the student does not agree with the outcome of the discussion, the process moves to a formal hearing.”

As to whether any staff or faculty are facing discipline — professor of education Rouhollah Aghasaleh was one of the 32 arrested when police swept the campus April 30 — the spokesperson says they cannot comment.

“We cannot comment on personnel matters,” she says. “We can tell you that temporary suspension of faculty with pay are handled on a case-by-case basis.”


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