Racial crime victims disappointed with WKUPD

Emma Collins

On Wednesday, Oct. 5, while Bowling Green sophomore Francisco Serrano and his girlfriend were walking outside of the Downing Student Union, a McDonald’s cup was suddenly thrown at them, according to Serrano.

His girlfriend’s shoes were splattered with an unknown liquid as they both looked up to see what Serrano later described as a black Hyundai Tiburon driving past them. A passenger yelled a racial slur as the car drove away.

Serrano’s experience is just one of a number of race-related crimes that have occurred on campus since school started in August.

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On Tuesday, Aug. 30, a racial slur was carved into Lexington senior Cheyenne Mitchell’s car. On Wednesday, Sept. 7, Louisville freshman Tarik Maddox was hit with a bottle of urine as she walked with a group of her friends to Pearce-Ford Tower.

During a several day period in late August, Michelle Jones, an associate math professor, found several threatening notes containing racist language slipped under her door.

All of the victims had two things in common: they are members of minority groups and they are all unhappy with how the WKU Police Department has handled their cases.

Mitchell’s case was the first incident to make the news.

On Tuesday, Aug. 30, Mitchell called the WKUPD to report her car had been vandalized with a racial slur. Someone had also keyed the driver side fender and let the air out of the front driver side tire.

“It was just kind of shocking,” Mitchell said. “It was a lot to deal with.”

After her friend had an altercation with another driver in Parking Structure 1 earlier that day, Mitchell said when she returned to her car after class she saw the vandalism.

“It upset me some and scared me a little bit because I didn’t know what to do,” Mitchell said in a previous College Heights Herald article. “I was in shock about it that somebody would do that to my car in broad daylight.”

After calling WKUPD, Mitchell said an officer arrived at the scene, documented the crime and took pictures of her car. Since then, she said she has had little contact with the university police.

She does not feel the police have taken much initiative with her case. She said she has received a few updates but not nearly as many as she would have liked, and she still does not know if any progress has been made.

“It’s kind of aggravating to know they haven’t done anything or at least if they have done anything they haven’t told me,” Mitchell said.

WKUPD Sergeant Rafael Casas said the police have done everything possible to solve Mitchell’s case. A WKUPD officer contacted the Bowling Green Police Department and received the number and the name of the man who called to report the situation with Mitchell’s friend in PS1.

Casas said the WKUPD contacted the man who said he was willing to do whatever was necessary to prove he was innocent. Ultimately, the WKUPD decided the man had not vandalized Mitchell’s car.

Contrary to Mitchell’s story, Casas said he had been in touch with her several times. He said he even encouraged her to take the crime report to the county attorney’s office to see if the office would want to press charges against the man. So far, Casas said Mitchell has yet to pick up the report.

Maddox also complained about a lack of updates from the WKUPD regarding her case. On the night of Wednesday, Sept. 7, Maddox said she was walking with a group of friends from Chili’s back to PFT. As they were walking, a car drove by and threw a bottle of urine at the group.

“I was just like, ‘really?’ –– on a campus where they said it’s safe,” Maddox said. “After that, I’m like ‘no it’s not.'”

Maddox said she reported the incident the next day to an officer from the WKUPD. She said she felt the officer’s response seemed insincere and she left feeling nothing would be done.

“I just felt like it was another thing that I just have to go through,” Maddox said.

Serrano and Jones also felt the WKUPD lacked interest in their cases at first.

Jones said she went to the WKUPD several days after the incident to file a police report. The officer she met with copied the documents and took down her contact information.

“When I left the police department the first time, I left there with the mindset that, ‘oh well nothing’s going to be done about this,’ and I did not like leaving there with that feeling,” Jones said.

According to the incident report from Jones’s case, after the officer met with Jones he determined the notes were not “a violation of Kentucky law.” Casas said when it is determined an incident is not a crime, the officer is supposed to inform the victim no crime was committed. Jones said she was never told it did not meet the criteria for a crime.

Casas said the officer initially determined the incident was not a crime because Jones did not share all the information with the officer when she went to the police department.

“The initial officer didn’t do a crime report because he didn’t feel that it met the standards and the necessary requirements for the harassment or for the terroristic threatening,” Casas said.

Once more information was received, Casas said the incident was determined to be a crime. He said he did not know why the officer did not inform Jones during the first meeting that the notes did not meet the criteria for a crime.

After meeting with the officer, Jones decided to speak to someone in a more “powerful” position about what had occurred. As a result, Jones said Provost David Lee made a phone call to the WKUPD. She said after the call, two officers contacted her and arranged to meet with her at her office to discuss the case in further detail.

“They were in my office probably for 45 minutes to an hour, which is what I was expecting the first time,” Jones said.

Similarly, Serrano said he thought the WKUPD appeared uninterested because he never met with an officer when he called the police to report the incident.

Serrano made three calls on the night of Wednesday, Oct. 5, to the police department, he said. His first call was to the emergency line where the officer asked Serrano to call back on the non-emergency line.

Casas said Serrano’s case did not constitute as an emergency because no one was in immediate danger. In non-emergency situations, victims are asked to call the department’s non-emergency line.

When Serrano called the non-emergency line, he claimed two police officers were nearby and drove after the car. During this second phone call, Serrano did not mention that a passenger in the car had yelled a racial slur. It was not until Serrano made a third call later that night to the police that he mentioned the slur.

“That was probably from me still being shook up from everything,” Serrano said. “The second [call] I guess I was able to calm down a bit more and assess the situation and explain it a bit better.”

During his third call to the police, Serrano asked the officer if he would receive updates or another call from the police. The officer on the line said he did not think Serrano would receive another call unless progress had been made or if there were more questions.

Casas said this is standard practice for the WKUPD. He said officers usually only contact a victim if they have questions or they have made some sort of progress.

Serrano reached out to the police several times after the incident. During one call on Sunday, Oct. 9, Serrano said he was surprised to learn a police report for the incident had not been made.

According to the incident report, an officer said during the phone call on Sunday, Oct. 9, that he told Serrano a report about the incident had not been made. In the report, Serrano is said to have refused to file a police report.

“Serrano stated he did not want a report now and would be filing a complaint with Chief [Mitch] Walker,” read the report.

Casas said he did not know if a complaint from Serrano had been filed.

Maddox and Serrano decided to meet with Chief of Police Mitch Walker to discuss their experiences. Both claimed Walker was using his cell phone throughout the meeting and seemed distracted.

“He was just very distracted,” Maddox said.

Casas said he could understand why the four victims were upset with the progress made on their cases. He said victims normally want their case to be the police department’s number one priority.

“They think that we don’t have anything else to do but their case,” Casas said. “Unfortunately, that’s not the case.”

Serrano said he plans to release the audio and video tapes from the night of the incident so that the public can view them. He said he wants the public to be able to come to their own conclusions about what happened to him and his girlfriend that night.

Jones said despite her experience she does not have any problems with the police. If she was to encounter another incident, she said she would still report it to the WKUPD.

“I understand that there are lots of things happening on our campus and that they may not have the manpower to jump right into certain types of crimes that they may not see as life threatening as others,” Jones said.

Jones said she does wish people understood how upsetting being the victim of such a crime can be.

“Even though someone didn’t physically assault me, they do not understand the pain that something like this can cause someone,” Jones said.

Correction: In a previous version of this story, the Herald reported Michelle Jones found letters in her office in September. The letters were actually found in the last week of August and reported near the first of September. Pearce-Ford Tower was also incorrectly called Pierce Ford Tower. The Herald regrets the error and encourages readers to report errors in an effort to remain accurate and responsible. 

Reporter Emma Collins can be reached at 270-745-6011 and [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @__emma_collins__.