Hampshire College raps Amherst police after student handcuffed

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 11-01-2022 8:01 PM

AMHERST — A recent Amherst Police response to the Hampshire College campus, leading to a student being placed in handcuffs, is coming under criticism from college officials, as administrators also look into how the incident was handled by the college’s Campus Safety and Wellbeing department.

In an email sent to students, staff and faculty late last week, Zauyah Waite, vice president for student affairs and dean of students, writes that during the Oct. 19 incident, a student was placed into “forcible restraints” while being questioned, even though the college contends the student posed no threat toward police, was not engaged in dangerous behavior and was compliant with the directives of officers.

“Hampshire College objects to this treatment, and it should not have happened,” Waite writes. “President (Ed) Wingenbach spoke with both the Amherst Town Manager and the Chief of Police to express our concerns and objections about the decisions that were made in this situation.”

Town Manager Paul Bockelman and Police Chief Scott Livingstone on Tuesday issued a joint statement confirming that they have talked to Wingenbach, and provided details about the seriousness of the call and the responsibilities police officers have when dispatched to potentially dangerous situations.

“In this instance, the responding officers utilized their best judgment and acted according to protocol and within the discretion permitted by the department’s policies,” the Amherst officials said. “As an accredited police agency, the police department reviews all incidents of this type, which is the case in this situation.”

Their statement also elaborates on what happened during the response, which came at the request of Campus Safety and Wellbeing at 4:45 p.m. related to concerning behavior of an individual at Hampshire College’s main campus library. That person was acting suspiciously by making oral threats toward others and making hand gestures similar to pointing and firing a gun.

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By the time police were on campus, though, the suspect was gone, leaving behind an ID that police used to identify him as a person of interest in an assault off-campus. That ID also showed that there was a be-on-the-lookout, or BOLO, alert for the suspect from Northampton. That alert showed that he was believed to be homicidal and schizophrenic and had “physically attacked a relative and threatened to kill other relatives, police and any individual who attempted to intervene or stop him.”

Police used the K-9 unit to search for him in nearby woods.

“Given the gravity of the BOLO and threat of possible violence by the suspect, this individual was briefly detained and handcuffed, which is protocol in circumstances involving reports of a felony, while officers determined his identity,” the town manager and police chief wrote. “It was quickly determined the individual was not the suspect police were looking for and the individual was let go immediately. He provided additional information to the police officers to assist in the investigation.”

The suspect was later located and taken into custody in Hadley under an involuntary commitment order, which allowed for him to admitted to a psychiatric unit against the individual’s will or without the individual’s consent. He was then transported by ambulance to a facility.

Up until 2019, Hampshire College shared a police chief and force with Mount Holyoke and Smith colleges. The college withdrew from that agreement that year and has since relied on Amherst Police and other area departments for coverage.

This fall, Hampshire College launched its Department of Campus Safety and Wellbeing, which was formerly Campus Safety and Security. Staff with the new department respond various service and emergency calls and are a 24/7 presence on campus. The department is not a sworn police force; it has no authority to arrest.

Bockelman said in an interview Tuesday that police have wide latitude in situations like this, and that the town and its residents depend on law enforcement to use the best judgment, which he believes happened in this circumstance.

As a follow-up, the town intends to have further discussions with Hampshire College to establish protocols for future police responses on campus, as well as the potential role the town’s Community Responders for Equity, Safety and Service, or CRESS, might play.

Still, even though the college notes that Amherst Police are not required to coordinate with the college, its safety department was kept updated, including being notified when the custody occurred in Hadley. That doesn’t excuse the police officers’ actions, though.

“We are deeply distressed that Amherst Police treated a Hampshire College student in this way,” Waite wrote. “Unfortunately, when law enforcement responds to a report on our campus, their actions are not under our control.”

Following the incident, the student called the Campus Safety and Wellbeing office to obtain information and it “did not engage with the care and concern we expect,” Waite wrote.

“This is something under our control. I am deeply sorry for the inappropriate response by CSW and have initiated an internal review of our protocols,” Waite wrote.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.]]>