Update: UPD finishes internal investigation after UNF student files complaint

Joseph Basco

Muhammad Williams, left, and his brother, Matthew right, encountered UPD in the fall semester that led to an officer tazing their younger brother.
Photo by Sean Murphy

UPD completed an internal investigation Nov. 30, 2011 that looked into formal complaints finance senior Muhammad Williams and his brother Matthew filed.

Williams and his brother Matthew complained of racial profiling and police brutality during an incident Sept. 26, which involved the use of a Taser. Sgt. Shawn Faulkner deployed and used his Taser on Maulvi Williams, the brother of Muhammad and Matthew, after Maulvi and Matthew were ordered to leave campus grounds, as they were trespassing. Muhammad has previously said to the Spinnaker that Officer Heather Strayer said, “Sit your ass on the grass,” and “You don’t look like the kind of student that goes here.”

The 16-page investigation summary, written by Deputy Chief Mark Richardson, contains documented statements from most of the people involved in the incident. Richardson interviewed Faulkner, Strayer, Lt. Tammy Oliver, Sgt. Kathleen Halstead, Detective Phil Kearney, Officer Tim White, Assistant Director of Recreation Facilities Mike Weglicki, witness Alec Canty and complainants Muhammad Williams and Matthew Williams.

Richardson was unable to contact Maulvi Williams, the brother of Muhammad and Matthew, for an interview during the investigation. Casey McEver, a witness who was playing basketball with the Williams’ before the incident started, was also unavailable for an interview with Richardson.

The summary contains a fact timeline of the incident and the laws the Williams’ violated:

– On Sept. 26, the Williams brothers were playing basketball in the Arena basketball court on the second floor. Weglicki said to put their shirts on and show ID, in accordance with the UNF Policy Student Conduct Code 5.001, Section E, Violation 14.3, which is failure to show proper identification to a University official. The Williams’ also exhibited disruptive behavior, which is defined by UNF Policy Disruptive Behavior Code 1.003 as, “Noncompliance with written or oral requests or orders of authorized University officials in the performance of their official duties.”

– The Williams brothers voluntarily left the Arena and walked toward Lot 18 as officers followed them. The Williams’ failed to identify themselves, in accordance with Florida Statute 856.021, which states it is unlawful to loiter in a place under circumstances that “warrant a justifiable and reasonable alarm or immediate concern for the safety of persons in the vicinity.” One such circumstance may be the refusal to identify oneself.

– The Williams brothers then exited Lot 18 near Central Parkway. Then, they returned and were trespassed in accordance with Florida Statute 810.09, which defines trespassing as a misdemeanor of the first degree.

– Muhammed returned to get his vehicle. Matthew and Maulvi’s actions caused officers to be alert. UPD deployed a Taser and arrested Matthew and Maulvi, charging them with resisting an officer without violence and trespassing.

Richardson said in the conclusion of the summary that only the complainants heard the racial remarks from Strayer. Strayer denied making the statements, and the officers present during the incident denied hearing the statements.

Richardson said on page 15, “Because there is no independent witness and the intent of the statements (if true) cannot be determined, the allegation of bias-based profiling against Officer Heather Strayer and Lt. Tammy Oliver is not sustained because it cannot be proved or disproved.”

On the next and final page, Richardson concluded that police brutality was not used because the officers “acted within the scope of their duties in overcoming unlawful resistance.”

Muhammad read the investigation summary Jan. 5 and disputed statements the officers and Weglicki said in the investigation.

Weglicki said during the investigation that shirts are a requirement in the Arena, and it is not a university policy but an “unwritten Arena policy.” Muhammad said he and his brothers did not notice any signs in the Arena that said shirts are required.

Weglicki showed the Spinnaker the Arena policy book, which states on page 12 that appropriate attire, including proper basketball court shoes and shirts, is required. He also showed a sign posted on the first floor door to the basketball court that states shirts are required, but said it was placed after the incident. Weglicki said the white board behind the front desk stated the shirt policy prior to the incident.

Weglicki said he was “pretty sure” there was a shirt policy sign on the front door to the upstairs basketball court, where the Williams brothers were playing. The Spinnaker did not notice a sign on the door Jan. 5.

Even though the officers denied hearing racial statements from Strayer and Oliver, Muhammad said he heard them.

Muhammad said he did not know if the internal investigation had any form of bias but still plans to escalate the issue by contacting an attorney and human rights organizations because he did not agree with the investigation’s results.

“[UPD] investigated it; they did what was necessary,” Muhammad said. “But this is going to the ‘next level’ of investigation.”

UPD Chief John Dean said it is standard procedure, with UPD and any other police organization, to conduct investigations such as these internally. Only cases with extreme circumstances, as determined by Dean, require an external organization to investigate. He said there is an average of 6.66 UPD internal investigations annually.

Dean also said that, including this investigation, UPD has encountered two “bias-based profiling” complaints and one “police brutality” complaint during its existence.

Dean said if Williams brothers showed ID or left the campus, Matthew and Maulvi Williams would not have been arrested.

When asked if officers should have followed the Williams brothers and continued asking for ID once they left the Arena, Dean said it was the Williams’ behaviors that prompted the officers to do so.

“The way they conducted themselves, according to the investigation, once they left the Arena and headed down the walkway to the parking lot area, was very elusive and evasive,” Dean said, “which gave the sergeant and the officer even more reason to try and determine who they are, if they were hiding anything and if they were any type of threat.”

Matthew, who said he is in the process of transferring from Howard University in Washington, D.C., to UNF, had second thoughts after the incident. He said nothing like this has ever happened to him before. He said the whole situation could have been handled better by both sides.

“Mistakes were made by both parties, but some [events] should have just been let go,” Matthew said. “We are college students on a college campus, so the actual force that was used was unnecessary.”