Racism claimed in student arrest
The incident, which occurred one month after a black teenager in Florida was killed by a neighborhood watch captain in what some activists have called a hate crime, has prompted renewed concerns on campus about racial tensions nationwide.
Sheaffer, who is black, was arrested by a Bowling Green State University police officer and charged with the misdemeanors of disorderly conduct and obstructing official business, according to police and court records. Sheaffer is from the nearby town of Findlay, Ohio.
Sheaffer, a defensive back on the football team, declined to comment on the situation and referred inquiries to the Department of Athletics, which also declined to comment. University Spokesperson Martin Mbugua also declined to comment on the situation.
W. Alex Smith, Sheaffer’s attorney, said, “These are extremely minor charges.” He added that he is not prepared to describe the case as one of racial profiling at this point.
“The case is open, and we don’t feel comfortable talking about anything along those lines at this time,” Smith said.
According to court records, Sheaffer pleaded not guilty to both charges.
The incident began shortly before 3 a.m. on Saturday when an officer on patrol reported he heard yelling coming from a house on East Wooster Street and “basically responded to check if everything was OK,” police Captain Mike Campbell said in an interview.
The officer said Sheaffer “did recklessly yell at passersby, taunting under circumstances in which the conduct is likely to provoke a violent response,” according to the complaint filed in the Bowling Green Municipal court and obtained by The Daily Princetonian. Sheaffer then allegedly proceeded to run into a house and lock the door, “delaying the performance of a public officer,” the complaint read.
When the officer tried to speak to Sheaffer, he allegedly remained in the house.
“It appears that he didn’t want to come out,” Campbell said.
Campbell also denied that it was a case of racial profiling, although he emphasized that he could not release court records or the report, as the case has not yet been adjudicated.
“From what I could tell, the officer was responding to the actions as far as someone yelling, basically pursuing [and] making sure that there was no fight going on,” Campbell said. “He was responding to the disorder, not necessarily a race-based incident.”
Sheaffer was released after he posted 10 percent of bail, which was set at $11,500.
In a message that has now gone viral on the Twitter and Facebook accounts of University students, a friend of Sheaffer’s cousin claims that Sheaffer was “stripped, showered and put in an orange jumper” and was not allowed to get in contact with his family for eight hours.
Sheaffer was held in a county jail. Campbell said he did not know about the jail’s protocol for holding and processing suspects.
According to the messages, Sheaffer was “wrongly arrested and incarcerated ... while sitting on the porch drinking water waiting for his friends to arrive.”
The message did not say Sheaffer locked the door, but claims that he “got up and entered his friends’ house and called her” when the police approached but was “yanked” out the door, handcuffed and arrested by the officer.
In light of the death of Trayvon Martin in Florida, several students have expressed concern about the treatment of Sheaffer.
“[This incident] reaffirms the notion that we do not live in a post-racial society,” Black Student Union president Antonia Hyman ’13 said in an email. “Apparently, even an Ivy League education cannot protect a black man from this treatment.”
Former BSU Director of Graduate and Alumni Affairs Angela Groves ’12, who was one of the first Princeton students to re-post the status, said in an interview she was not particularly surprised that such an incident had happened.
Sheaffer’s case “illuminates the issue of race relations ... especially racial profiling,” Groves said. “Black males, especially young black males, are unjustly profiled and arrested without cause so often. [This] reminds us that there is still a lot of work to be done.”
Many students have called on their peers to take action to combat alleged racism.
“I wanted to walk out of class and do something,” Maya Reid ’12 said in an email. “These aren’t isolated events. Racial profiling is real. Post-racialism is an absurd concept. I want to see the momentum surrounding events like this and others recently keep going, the activism keep spreading, because progress cannot be made without honest open conversation.”
BSU met on Tuesday evening to discuss issues that have arisen recently, including Sheaffer’s arrest and Martin’s death. A Facebook group called “Princeton 2015 Black Students” has recently served as a forum for students, both freshmen and upperclassmen, to discuss the incidents.
However, the BSU’s discussion of the issue and the widespread social media reaction has also sparked some criticism.
“I feel as if lately this group has been leaning more [toward] bringing up a lot of racism issues,” Sydney Montgomery ’15 said on the group’s wall. “I don’t think it is particularly productive either to call attention to every racist article, comment, website, etc.”
A pre-trial hearing for Sheaffer in Ohio is scheduled for April 9.