Student Allegedly Detained by DPS Officer at Football Game

Drew Kaplan ‘20, Editor-in-Chief

A student has filed a complaint with the Department of Public Safety alleging that he was prevented from leaving Biddle Field during the playing of the national anthem before the Homecoming Football game. 

The student, who will remain anonymous due to possible retaliation, said he was trying to walk through the entrance gate of the field when a DPS officer blocked him. He said the officer noticed him walking toward the gate after the national anthem had begun to play, and “started blocking the gate. […] He physically blocked the gate.” 

He said that the officer informed him that, because the anthem was playing, the student was not permitted to leave the field, nor permitted to walk around. The student, thinking “the song would be over soon,” chose at first to wait, but again attempted to leave after some time had passed. However, “the DPS officer [was] still blocking the gate. I was trying to go around DPS, and he was extending his arm” to block the gate. The student then alleged that the officer became angry, and ordered the student to remain still in respect of the national anthem. 

The student  reported that the most distressing part “was at the end [the officer] started getting really commanding. […] I tried to […] leave, it’s my right.” The student added that he filed an official complaint regarding the incident through a form titled “File a Complaint” located on the Dickinson College website. 

Chief of Public Safety Dee Danser confirmed in an email that the DPS received a formal complaint from the student, and that Human Resource Services (HRS) has begun an internal investigation into the incident. Danser declined to identify the officer under investigation. 

Vice President of Student Life George Stroud confirmed that “we are investigating this incident and it’s been sent to HR to investigate.” 

Associate Vice President of Human Resource Services Debra Hargrove confirmed in an email that there is an ongoing investigation into the incident. “The investigation is in its beginning stages,” Hargrove stated. “We are looking at that and going through our channels to make sure what happened and how we move forward from this situation after we find out the facts about it,” 

Stroud added, noting that because of the nature of the investigation, the results will not be publicly available. “It’s confirmed that there was an incident reported at the game. We are investigating what occurred,” Stroud said. The form states that “a relationship of trust and confidence between employees of Public Safety and the community is essential to effective policing. Public Safety officers must be free to initiate enforcement actions in a reasonable manner without fear of reprisal, while respecting the rights of all persons in doing so.” It explains that the form is meant to serve as a citizen complaint feature, to draw attention to incidents where “officers conduct themselves improperly” and help distinguish those from situations where officers may face “unwarranted criticism when they perform their duties properly.”

Danser noted in an email that, “since this is an employee investigation, I cannot comment further on the matter.” However, Danser stated that DPS “did receive an online complaint from the student involved in this matter.” She explained that all reports submitted in this manner are sent to herself, Associate Director of Public Safety Michael Guido, Associate Vice President of Student Leadership Becky Hammell, Vice President of Student Life George Stroud, and Hargrove. Danser added that all complaints are investigated, with the exact course of the investigated dependent on the case. 

Danser continued that, regarding the national anthem, “the practice at the college has been to ask pedestrian traffic to stop at the entrance of the field during the national anthem. […] We generally ask pedestrians around the gates or entrances to wait. Since it is DPS personnel who are assigned to the gates, those personnel are the ones who ask pedestrians to wait until the national anthem is complete.”

Stroud added that, while the anthem is played, “folks were asked to stop. […] When the anthem is played, everyone literally stops moving. […] You’re stopped at the stands and asked to wait where [you] are.” Stroud described this stopping as a practice, rather than a policy, of the college. “It’s a practice that everyone stops and waits. […] If you’re at the entrances, we’re going to ask people to just stop.” Danser described this practice as “very similar to what is done at high school, college and professional sporting events around the country.”

Provost Neil Weissman said in an email that the college “fully respect[s] the right to engage in non-violent protest. […] If a student athlete opts to engage in non-violent protest at an athletic event they are free to do so.” Weissman noted that, while “constructive conversation about this issue is fine, […] no pressure should be exerted by staff or students either way.” [Editor’s Note: The student was not protesting the national anthem at the time of the incident]

The student said in an email a week after the incident, that DPS issued him an apology regarding the incident, stating that the department will consider “this as a learning experience moving forward.” But the student described the interactions during the meeting as “backhanded,” as he felt the officer tried “to justify his actions at the same time [as the] apology.” 

“They said they were sorry they didn’t realize their national pride offended people from a different country,” the student continued, “they were apologizing because they think I was offended.”

Danser added that “since this incident has come to our attention, we are looking at this practice to determine if it should continue.”

Student Senate President Kevin Ssonko ’20 explained his thoughts on the situation and said “If the details of the situation are as you say, it’s a very unfortunate situation, and one which I would hope the college would work to make sure would not happen again.”

Student Senate Director of Inclusivity Kaliph Brown ’20 declined to comment.