- Posted March 14, 2011 by
Students Civil Rights Violated by University Police
REPORT HAS SPARKED INTEREST ON CAMPUS AND GAINED WEIGHT IN A VERY SHORT AMOUNT OF TIME
Written by Sarah Evans, George Mason University
The following account is that of a friend and coworker. I have decided to publicize this incident because it impacts me as a student and as a strong believer in social justice. I think it’s important to speak up on his behalf.
Tuesday, March 8, 2011 was like any other weekday at George Mason University. One student’s quest for an empty study room was met after a long search in Fenwick Library. Little did he know picking that study room, that day would forever change his life.
Abdirashid Dahir, a senior at George Mason University, had searched high and low, Tuesday afternoon, to find a study room in Fenwick to work on his research paper, due for midterm evaluations. Finally, finding one on the third floor, Abdi settled in and set up his things to prepare for a long work period. After settling in, Abdi realized he had left his laptop charger in his dorm (Shenandoah Building). Gone approximately seven minutes, the time it might take some to use the restroom or find a book, Abdi returned to find something unexpected. A girl had taken over the study room, placing all of Abdi’s belongings in the hallway by the door. Being confused and frustrated with the situation, as many people would be, Abdi opened the door to the study room and asked the girl what was going on. The girl replied that she noticed he had gone away and she needed the room, and therefore took it. Abdi responded with a justified, “What the f**k?” Abdi explained to the girl that he had only been gone seven minutes and that it was really unfair for her to just take the study room. The girl wouldn’t budge. Abdi, needing to get his work done, then tried to reason with the girl, saying that they both clearly needed to use the room and could possibly share it. The girl did not like this idea but refused to leave. Abdi decided not to budge; after all, he had gotten there first and this girl was clearly breaking the unspoken student code of courtesy. When Abdi refused to leave, the girl decided to call Mason Police. While Abdi and the girl waited for the police to arrive, the girl expressed her dislike of “foreigners,” referring to Abdi’s accent, saying how her father was a Federal police officer, and that she intended on getting him into a lot of trouble. She also told him he ought to go back to hiscountry. Abdi felt like the girl was capable of making up information, based on her intentions and what she had relayed to the dispatcher. In an attempt to avoid any further possible prosecution, Abdi got up, opened the door, and put the deadbolt out, to prop the door open, so it was obvious to everyone passing by that the door was not locked. The girl then called Mason Police again, saying that he had actually locked her in the room and therefore was escalating the situation. Abdi stated later that on the dispatch recording of the message, he could be heard in the background repeatedly saying, “You are lying.” Soon after her second call, four officers showed up at the study room. Abdi pushed the already open door, open more to allow the officers to enter. Officer Rapoli, badge 41, stood in the doorway and started the process by asking the girl what happened. The other officers stayed in the hallway, outside the study room. The girl started explaining the situation. Abdi pleaded to give his side of the story; upon his third time asking, he was given the chance to speak. Abdi began to talk and the girl, who had been so cocky before the police arrived, began to cry. Immediately following, Officer Rapoli asked Abdi to sit outside the study room. Abdi was unable to see or hear what was going on within the study room, from where he was placed. Officer Rapoli continued to question the girl in the study room. Abdi expressed his frustration with the situation to the other officers, saying, “You’ve got to be kidding me; I have a lot of work to do. I don’t understand why this has happened or why she’s crying.” Officer VanDoren, badge 14, empathized with Abdi, saying that what they were doing was all procedural. The officers then asked Abdi to move to a far corner table away from the study room, which he did. The two other officers assessed the situation and left, responding to another incident, leaving Rapoli interviewing the girl and VanDoren with Abdi. After a few minutes, Rapoli came over, leaving the girl in the room. He then told Abdi he had to leave Fenwick Library. Abdi tried to understand why they had come to this conclusion, asking why he was getting kicked out, when he was there first. The officers did not answer his questions, replying only with a simple answer of, “You need to leave.” Abdi began to cry; he explained that the situation was not fair, stating that he, too, was a student here and that it seemed like just because she cried they took her side. He told the officers, “I don’t think this is right; you haven’t given me a chance to tell my side, and you rushed to this conclusion.” They were silent. Abdi then asked to be escorted back to the study room, to get his belongings. When he entered the room he addressed the girl saying, “You know what you did was wrong; stop making stuff up.” He also asked the girl never to do what she did to him, to anyone else. The girl remained silent.
Up to this point, Officer Rapoli had really been the one taking charge of the case; he was the one who had been conducting the questions and procedure thus far. Abdi felt like Officer Rapoli was really the only officer at fault, in how badly the case had been dealt with. Abdi then asked Officer Rapoli for his information; Rapoli gave him his card. Abdi then asked Rapoli if he had a supervisor or someone that he could talk to about him (Rapoli). Rapoli pointed at VanDoren, suggesting that VanDoren was that person. VanDoren tried to explain the situation to Abdi, telling him that what Rapoli did was right. He never answered Abdi’s question of how this conclusion was fair, though. Abdi asked, “Why me, though? Why not kick both of us out?” referring to the girl and himself. VanDoren continued to avoid Abdi’s questions, repeating that Rapoli had acted correctly in the situation. Feeling like he wasn’t getting anywhere, Abdi stated that he was leaving. The officers remained upstairs, allowing Abdi to walk himself out, without an escort. On his way out, Abdi stopped by the info desk, asking the gentleman working, about the library’s policy about study rooms. The gentleman at the desk did not know of any such policy, but suggested Abdi speak with his supervisor. The gentleman went to the back, looking for his supervisor, asking others there where she might be, pointing at a still visibly upset Abdi. He returned, telling Abdi he could wait there for her. While Abdi was waiting at the information desk, to speak with the library supervisor, the two officers came down the stairs (possibly to exit the building). VanDoren approached Abdi at the desk saying, “If you had not acted like a little child, we would not have this problem.” Abdi then asked both officers for their badge numbers, stating he would like to file a complaint. The officers complied but followed up by saying Abdi must then leave or they would arrest him for trespassing. Abdi left Fenwick, heading straight for the Police Station, by Rappahannock Parking deck, to file a formal complaint against the two officers.
At the station, Abdi spoke with the chief of operations and explained the situation and how he felt the officers had handled the incident very unprofessionally and unfairly – not listening to both sides, forcing him to leave, etc. The supervisor agreed that the officers should not have acted in this way and were wrong in their decision to force Abdi to leave. The supervisor then asked Abdi what could be done to make him “feel better,” about the situation. Abdi explained that he felt like both officers owed him an apology, for the way they conducted themselves and treated him, and they needed to make sure that they would not act this way in the future. The supervisor then called both officers in, standing back and having Abdi explain to them why he was there and what issue he had with them. Abdi explained that he felt like they did not handle the situation well; they violated his rights as a student, didn’t listen to both sides, rushed through the process and settled on an unfair conclusion. Abdi finished stating, “I believe you owe me an apology.” Both Officer Rapoli and Officer VanDoren refused to apologize. The officers exited the room, leaving Abdi with the chief of operations. Abdi asked him, “If I were to file a complaint, who would it go to?” The chief explained that it would come back to him. Abdi felt like he could get no further at the police station. He thanked the chief of operations for his help and asked to leave. Abdi had gotten a few steps away from the station when he realized he didn’t know when he was allowed to go back to Fenwick. He decided to go back in and ask. When he re-entered the station and walked into the lobby, he found VanDoren laughing and speaking with the secretarial staff, behind the counter. The woman, who had directed Abdi to the chief of operations before, approached the window. Abdi explained to her he didn’t know how long he had to wait to go back to the library. VanDoren, overhearing the conversation, stopped laughing and came to the window. Abdi asked VanDoren when he was able to return to the library. VanDoren said, “Couple hours.” Abdi suggested that his answer was too vague and asked VanDoren to be more specific. “Not 'til tomorrow,” VanDoren replied. Abdi then asked to get it in writing. VanDoren then came into the lobby, where Abdi was standing. VanDoren then said Abdi needed to leave; otherwise he would arrest him for trespassing. Abdi explained, “All I want is for it to be in writing, so that I can have proof of it when I meet with Dean of Students.” “You’re right,” VanDoren said, “Now I’ll make sure you’re given one year away from the library.” “That’s fine as long as it’s in writing,” Abdi replied. VanDoren went back into the conference room, where Abdi had met with the chief of operations and the two officers. A few moments later, Abdi was called back into conference room, where his picture was taken and he was given a citation for trespassing, which he signed. The trespassing citation stated Abdi could not enter Fenwick library for the next two weeks, which is the maximum suspension time from the library, not the one year VanDoren had been so adamant about giving him.
Abdi left the police station, heading to the Dean’s office, where he met with Carrie Klein to talk about his incident. Abdi stated that Ms. Klein was very helpful and directed him to the office of Senior Vice President, Maurice Scherrens, who is apparently the “only one above the police,” according to Ms. Klein. Abdi walked over to Mr. Scherrens’ office, but he was unavailable to meet at that time, so Abdi scheduled an appointment to meet with him on Friday evening.
Abdi then returned to Shenandoah 3rd, where he is a Resident Advisor. He wrote down the incident play-by-play and saved it, to send to his supervisor. He spoke with one of his suitemates and explained the whole crazy ordeal. Abdi decided to try and get some work done on the research paper he had attempted to work on in Fenwick earlier that afternoon. He set up in the floor study room. Three or four hours after the incident at Fenwick (around 6:30 PM), Officer Rapoli and Officer Ross arrived at the study room. The officers entered the study room. Officer Rapoli said, “I’m sorry; I should have done this earlier.” Abdi recalled thinking, perhaps Rapoli had returned to apologize, but Rapoli finished by saying, “But now I’m here to arrest you.” Rapoli showed Abdi the warrant, just enough to see his name on it. Abdi, confused about why he was being arrested asked, “For what?” Officer Rapoli replied, “Abduction,” which is a felony in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Abdi looked around the study room, “Who did I abduct?” The officers did not respond. Abdi asked, “Can I take my stuff to my room?” “No you can’t,” Rapoli insisted. Abdi then turned around and was put in handcuffs. While being cuffed, Rapoli asked if it was all right if Abdi’s roommate came and took his stuff. Abdi wondered how Rapoli knew he had a roommate at all, but said it was fine. After he cuffed Abdi, he searched him. Officer Ross suggested she call Abdi’s RD to take the stuff. That was the last time Abdi would see Officer Ross.
Officer Rapoli walked Abdi down the hall, telling him, “You have the right to remain silent, anything you say, can and will be used against you in a court of law,” but that was all. Rapoli took Abdi to the police car parked outside by the Shenandoah lecture room. Although he already searched Abdi inside the building, Officer Rapoli leaned Abdi up against the car, facing the back window and searched him again. While “searching” him, Rapoli tightened the cuffs, enough to cause pain and twisted Abdi’s left hand. Abdi let out a gasp, expressing the pain he was experiencing, but said nothing else. He felt as if Officer Rapoli was provoking him, trying to make him react and escalate the situation – perhaps then they’d have a real reason to arrest him. In the car, Abdi asked again, “Who did I abduct?” Rapoli replied, “From earlier today.” That was the extent of the conversation on the ride over to the Fairfax Adult Detention Center.
In front of the Magistrate, Abdi told Rapoli it was officers, like him, that made him want to be a lawyer even more. Abdi stated, “When I become a lawyer I will make sure officers like you are taken off the force.” “Oh yeah?” Rapoli remarked, “We’ll see about that.”
Wednesday, March 9, 2011, after seventeen hours in jail, Abdi was released on a $2,500 bond. When he was released he headed back to school to speak with his supervisors, get answers, and meet with anyone who could help. Upon returning to his room, he charged his phone and noticed a voicemail from the day before. His suitemate, who had heard all about the incident, the day before, had called, minutes before his arrest. The suitemate stated that Officer Rapoli had stopped by “to apologize for earlier.” When Abdi wasn’t in his room, his suitemate had suggested he might be in the study room.
Abdi met with Maurice Scherrens on Friday, after having his judicial on campus, Thursday. He will not know the school’s decision about the case for, at least another week, once all participants have been questioned. He has had no luck in getting the charges dropped or having any action be taken against the officers involved. Additionally, Abdi has still not been informed of his accuser. The official trial will be held on April 6, 2011 at 2:00 PM in Fairfax General District Court.
From working on a research paper in Fenwick library to Fairfax Adult Detention Center, Abdirashid Dahir’s life changed in an instance. Since the incident, Abdi has been prohibited from entering his building, as a precaution to the community, leaving him homeless and at the mercy of off-campus friends with open couches. Abdi is also unable to work and complete his duties as an RA until the incident is cleared, which was sanctioned by the Office of Housing and Residence Life. However, despite the danger he may pose in his residence hall, Abdi is still allowed to attend classes. The incident has cost him valuable time and energy that could have been spent studying, which was his initial intention. It is clear that his rights as a student, a citizen, and as a human being have been compromised. Justice has not been served. The underlying ethnocentric discrimination and lack of equal opportunity is unacceptable.
For a university who so proudly flaunts its openness to diversity and international students, we really missed the mark on this one. GMU PD has a history of mistreatment and unanswered complaints. It makes me wonder whether a hate crime has been committed against Abdi. I remember as a freshman, attending Freshman Convocation on move-in day, seeing a man wearing a sandwich board with the words “Fairfax Police Hate Black People,” written on it. Abdi is a black, Somalian, Muslim; did he get fair treatment or is this a hate crime perpetrated by another student and exacerbated by the actions and inactions of the George Mason police?
As classmates, educators, counselors, advisors, students, residents, coworkers – fellow Patriots, we need to band together and insist justice be served. How can we take ourselves seriously if a school, that is “committed to providing equal opportunity and an educational and work environment free from any discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, veteran status, sexual orientation, or age,” can’t even manage to do just that?
Please pass this along to anyone who may be interested or may be able to help Abdi and students like him.