University should be investigated for covering up Pendragon incidentBy Rich Robinson | 10/20/2014 8:49pm
Why is The University of Alabama covering up its response to the so-called “Authur Pendragon” threats? Your guess is as good as mine, but there is now little doubt the University has made a calculated decision to hide the truth. It is part of a bizarre strategy of silence mixed with doublespeak. This coordinated effort concocted in the Rose Administration building has eroded the public trust and made students feel less safe.
Here are the facts that we know. On the night of Sept. 21, Tutwiler Hall was put on lockdown for roughly 45 minutes and searched by at least seven squad cars’ worth of police officers. The shutdown of the 13-story dorm was the first event in the “Pendragon” threat saga that began with a comment posted on a Youtube video promising a “day of retribution” for those who “look at minorities in disgust.” Students in the building were then told that no weapons were found, even though many residents have said that no police officer searched their individual rooms. This flies in the face of basic logic. How could the police guarantee the safety of a building if many of its roughly 450 rooms weren’t searched?
After a few tense days that saw some students flee campus and the arrests of two students on unconnected charges to the original threats, most people began to tune out the story. It’s clear now this is what the University intended – Bill Cosby redux.
The battle for public access to information guaranteed under state law began almost immediately. No police or incident report was ever uploaded to the public kiosk in the UAPD station. When asked why the documents were not there, WVUA-FM, where I am news director, was told to talk to UA Media Relations, as the police wouldn’t speak about it on the record. We were then told numerous times that no such documents existed. In the following days, the University and its many spokespeople shepherded a shifting narrative of what happened that night.
First the building was searched door-to-door, then only floor-by-floor. Finally by Oct. 2, the obfuscations became too much for the University to handle. In an email exchange with a University spokesman, I pressed for some sort of official police form or document that laid out the details of the operation. They refused. Later on in an email correspondence, the spokesman actually tried to convince me that “Tutwiler was not placed on lockdown” at all even though “residents of Tutwiler were asked to stay in their rooms” during the search of the building. The spin from the statement physically hurt my brain.
Out of options short of a lawsuit, we filed a Freedom of Information Act request to get basic information about the police operation that took place at Tutwiler Hall on the night of Sept. 21. On Oct. 20, Deborah M. Lane, assistant to the president Judy Bonner and chief UA spokesperson, rejected our FOIA request and refused to turn over any documents. This flagrant betrayal of the First Amendment and slap in the face to public records laws cannot stand. As students and more fundamentally, as Americans, we have a right to know how our University tries to protect us. Instead the school wants you to shut up and pay out. No discourse, no dissent and no real free flow of information between the institution and its students. It’s not a place of real democracy. Sadly, The University of Alabama is on the wrong side of history, and once again, on the wrong side of the truth. And the real question becomes: what are you willing to do about it?
Rich Robinson is a senior studying telecommunication and film. His column runs weekly.