UMass student charged with painting swastikas at Amherst College



Last modified: Monday, September 24, 2012

A break-in to the campus health center at Amherst College, during which two swastikas were painted inside the building, led to the arrest of a University of Massachusetts student police say is responsible.

Bradley Keigwin, 20, of North Falmouth was arrested Sept. 9 on charges of breaking and entering during the nighttime, larceny from a building and defacing property, said Amherst College spokeswoman Caroline Hanna.

Keigwin is not expected to face charges under the Massachusetts Hate Crime Statute, though, as the Northwestern district attorney's office determined there was insufficient evidence to support such a charge, Hanna said.

"Although the painting of a swastika on a wall is a clear bias indicator and highly offensive, additional elements must also be established in order to prosecute an individual for a criminal civil rights violation," said Deputy District Attorney Janice Healy. "After consultation with the Amherst College Police Department, it was determined that a criminal civil rights charge was not appropriate at this time."

Healy said these bias indicators could be dislike toward someone working at the health center or on the Amherst College campus, a connection to a known hate group or past comments made by Keigwin. The clearest bias indicator, she said, is when someone targets an individual with force or intimidation because of that person's race, gender, sexual orientation or religion.

Keigwin had been observed in the bushes outside the Keefe Health Center building at 12:12 a.m. Sept. 9 after setting off an intrusion alarm and ran when spotted by police, Hanna said. He was apprehended in downtown Amherst a short time later after a foot pursuit by college police officers.

Keigwin pleaded not guilty to the charges at an arraignment in Eastern Hampshire District Court in Belchertown. His case will be continued at a pre-trial hearing Oct. 23.

Hanna said Keigwin is alleged to have stolen computer components and furniture from the health center and used spray paint to damage the room and draw the swastikas.

"People are understandably upset about this," Hanna said.

The college sent a letter to all faculty, staff and students signed by President Carolyn "Biddy" Martin, Acting Dean of Students Charri Boykin-East, the Jewish religious adviser, Rabbi Bruce Bromberg Seltzer, and Police Chief John Carter.

In it, they thanked police and college staff for quick action related to the incident, including making the arrest, cleaning up and repainting the health center and getting it reopened to serve students.

The letter also indicates that the campus community is disturbed by the painted swastikas.

"Respect for the rights, dignity and integrity of others is essential for the well-being of our community," the letter said. "Actions by anyone that do not reflect such respect for others are damaging to each member of the community and hence damaging to Amherst College.

"Each member of the community should be free from interference, discrimination, intimidation, sexual harassment or disparagement in the classroom, the social, recreational and residential environment or the workplace."

In a letter addressed to the UMass community, Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy addressed the incident, saying, "While the break-in and theft are reprehensible, it is the painting of the swastikas that is most distressing. A swastika, which symbolizes anti-Semitism and other forms of extreme intolerance and hatred, has no place in any society that values and celebrates the many diverse forms of humanity."

UMass spokesman Edward Blaguszewski said the university's dean of students is reviewing the case to see if disciplinary action will be taken. "The case will be reviewed promptly," he said.

Blaguszewski said the specific action, if and when taken, will not be publicly revealed due to the federal privacy protections afforded college students.

Healy said the attorney general's office has broader discretion in civil law than the district attorney's office does in criminal law to pursue hate crimes. "The difficulty is that we're really not able to make out these specific elements in this particular case," Healy said.

As part of the evaluation of bias, Healy said, law enforcement agencies rely on "bias indicators" listed in the hate crime statute. These bias indicators are defined as "objective facts, circumstances or patterns attending a criminal act which, standing alone or in conjunction with other facts or circumstances, suggest that the offender's actions were motivated, in whole or in part, by any form of bias."

"An incident such as this demonstrates how important it is for both law enforcement and the Five College community to respond swiftly in order to send a clear message that any and all bias-motivated incidents are unacceptable and will not be tolerated," said Northwestern District Attorney David E. Sullivan.


 


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