California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB) and the Associated Students hosted a virtual town hall meeting for students on April 13, pertaining to a situation with a former CSUMB student that occurred on East Campus back on Feb. 10 regarding an incident with a former student that was arrested on weapons charges. Student questions and concerns were addressed by a panel that consisted of CSUMB Chief of Police Earl Lawson, Detective Heather Murphy, Cleary Director Shanieka Firek and Director of Student Housing Jeff Cooper.
Students were encouraged to submit questions through an anonymous form, where individual safety concerns had the opportunity to be addressed. The town hall meeting started with Lawson giving a brief summary of the incident and ongoing investigation. Reading from a prepared statement, Lawson spoke on the role CSUMB played in serving the former student a civil eviction notice. Upon serving the notice, school police entered the premises where a picture of Adolph Hilter and a swastika flag were hanging from the apartment walls.
When officers arrived, the former student was in the process of moving out. Half of his stuff had been placed in a moving vehicle, other parts of his property were scattered throughout the garage and some placed in his personal vehicle. Despite being arrested, Lawson informed students that there is nothing that lawfully prohibits the former student from accessing campus grounds.
Cooper spoke on housing’s process of reviewing behavioral concerns. The former student had previous behavioral reports from various students after placing a “make American great again,” flag on the back of his truck, including writing the phrase “liberal tears for America,” on his back windshield. While offensive to most, Lawson reminded students that having opposing views and speaking freely under the Constitution doesn’t warrant disciplinary action.
When dealing with behavioral concerns, housing looks for violations in the code of conduct and housing license. If they find sufficient evidence, the student under review is then asked to meet with a conduct review officer for a meeting. If a student is found to be in violation of policies, sanctions are issued.
“It’s an educational process, so the student has the ability to come forth and tell their story,” Cooper said. “The hearing officer has to review their story with what’s included in the incident report.”
There are criminal enhancements for offenses that occur on campus grounds. During a sweep of the residence, officers found and confiscated weapons, including various unknown chemicals that required the involvement of the bomb squad. None of the chemicals tested proved to be toxic or of harm, and upon further review, are believed to have possibly been used for cleaning purposes.
“Officers went on to search the apartment and found multiple weapon parts, and a few weapons including a loaded nine milimeter handgun,” Lawson said. “There were a quantity of AR-15 parts…called ‘ghost guns’ because they are not registered.”
The practice of owning and constructing ghost guns is a federal offense – possessing weapons and loaded firearms on school property is also a federal crime – both of which the former student was charged with. Lawson stands firm in his belief that there was no threat to school community members, and the school police department does not believe the ghost guns were intended for harm, but to be utilized for monetary profits.
“We have been unable to find any affiliation with hate groups or extremism, anything that would further raise a red flag,” Lawson said. “The weapons possession does not seem to be related at all.”
CSUMB officers were not able to charge the former student with hate-crime motivations, as disgusting as the possession of nazi progangda is, the United States protects an individual under free speech and allows for opposing beliefs to be celebrated.
Murphy has spent endless hours going through the former student’s electronics – which they received permission to investigate from a search warrant – looking for hate group affiliations. Murphy noted she has not found anything of concern, and the keywords that pulled up matches were related back to papers written for CSUMB classwork.
With the recent announcements of students returning to campus in fall, it’s understandable that there are safety concerns regarding campus involvement. Students want a guarantee that the previous incident will be prevented in the future, and they want more timely communication to ensure proper safety precautions were enacted.
Students expressed frustrations over the delay in communication surrounding the incident, particularly those living in the East Campus communities. While it’s common to get regular emails about wildlife sightings, there was a noticeable silence from campus officials. Yet, the school assures students that timely notifications were given out as seen fit for the ongoing investigation and under federal education criteria. CSUMB police post crime logs where students can check recent arrests in the school community.
Lawson has no doubts that East Campus and all CSUMB locations are heavily patrolled by officers with outstanding response times. Many officers live in student housing, helping out community members from petty theft crimes to serious incidents such as sexual assault. Lawson is aware it’s not possible to prevent all crime from happening, but he can promise students, faculty and staff that our school’s police department will do everything possible to ensure community safety and security.
As CSUMB, students, faculty and staff prepare for an in-person return to campus in fall, keeping the community safe is more important than ever. Knowing your neighbor, becoming an ally to fight racism and staying aware of your surroundings can help maintain safety standards that are implemented by our community and enforced through the school’s various departments and resources looking to make the college experience an enjoyable – and protected one.
“What defines a police department is how they serve their community,” Lawson said. “We are a very service-oriented police department. My officers choose to work here – they love being at a university and working with students.”