Charges Against Two Students Suspected of Burglary Dropped
UB students Nana Amoako, Jason Echols and Inima Ibocko were arrested Saturday, Oct. 13 after a resident of Goodyear Hall reported being robbed by a group of six African-American males wearing sports jerseys. In a Buffalo City Court hearing Monday, charges were dropped against Amoako and Echols.
"Two people were charged with the robbery and one person was charged with obstruction of justice and resisting arrest," said John Grela, director of University Police.
Ibocko, arrested for obstruction of justice, received a separate hearing.
According to Grela, around noon Saturday a group of African-American men forcibly entered the victim's dorm room searching, he believes, for marijuana.
"[The thieves] could not find [what they were looking for] and took the victim's wallet. He then called us and described the height, weight and clothing of the suspects," said John Grela, director of the University Police.
Shortly after the robbery was reported, Goodyear Loop was flooded with 12 police cars, four from the Amherst district and eight from the University Police.
"The Amherst police monitor our radios and must have heard that there was a strong-armed robbery with six individuals involved," said Grela.
Over 10 African-American students wearing sports jerseys were stopped for questioning.
One student, who requested his name be withheld, said, "All I was told, after being detained by the police, was that you're black with a jersey."
UB junior Kirk McFarland was not wearing a jersey but was also stopped for questioning. McFarland said he was put into handcuffs and believes he was detained because he was walking with black males who were wearing jerseys.
Some onlookers called the incident a classic case of racial profiling, compounded by the fact that the victim was white.
"Just being a bystander and not being involved on any level, I felt violated as a minority," said freshman Mary Cosme, who witnessed the police response.
Grela defends the University Police's response.
"Race had nothing to do with the arrests and the way we pursued the case," he said. "Everything was done according to the law."
Grela said the victim identified each of the subjects before arrests were made. The victim, Grela said, was on the phone with the police dispatch when he saw one of the subjects outside his window and pointed him out to police.
One of those charged with burglary was resident advisor Jason Echols, who maintains his innocence. Echols said he returned to South Campus after spending the afternoon watching television with one of his friends.
"When I came to Goodyear I was approached by an officer who asked me if I saw or was involved in anything tonight," Echols said. "I told him I was a resident advisor in Clement Hall and I was just getting back on campus."
Echols said the officer talked to other RAs in the building and "asked me to come outside with him." He said he was then handcuffed, placed into a police car, and later told he was under arrest because he had been identified as one of the perpetrators.
"I cooperated with the police and explained that I was an RA but it seemed that none of that mattered because I was still arrested," said Echols.
Derek Langford, a friend of Echols, said, "I've known Jason for a very long time and I would stake my life on it that Jason wasn't involved."
"I did not rob this person. I don't know how he looks and I have never been in any trouble," said Echols.
Amoako could not be reached for comment.
At the court hearing, Judge David Manz dismissed the case against Echols and Amoako due to insufficient evidence and because the victim could not give a positive identification of the suspects.
"They did not criticize anything done by the officers," said Grela. "At the time ... we had probable cause to make an arrest."
The Black Student Union provided busing to the courthouse for those interested in observing the trial. Approximately 25 UB students were present during the standing-room-only hearing; the courtroom resounded with applause when the cases were dismissed.
"I wonder if I claimed that five white males with khaki pants robbed me and ran into P.J. Bottoms, how many people the police would bring outside in handcuffs," said a witness to the arrests, UB student Troy Cameron.