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Sunday, May 19, 2024
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University Police conclude investigation into events surrounding Allen West speech with no charges filed

UPD investigated three reports of harassment and threatening Yik Yak posts

Protestors gather in SU last April to boycott Allen West's speech.
Protestors gather in SU last April to boycott Allen West's speech.

The Erie County District Attorney’s office announced it won’t press charges against any individuals in connection with the events surrounding Allen West’s speech last semester. 

“Our office could not prove that a crime occurred beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law,” Kait Munro, a spokesperson for the Erie County District Attorney’s Office, said in an email to The Spectrum

West, a conservative commentator and former Republican congressman, was invited by UB’s Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) chapter to deliver a speech titled “America is not Racist” in the Student Union last April. In response, dozens of students protested before and during West’s speech. 

University Police had been investigating, among other things, reports that protestors had harassed “three students who had organized the event that evening” for months, UB spokesperson John Della Contrada said in a statement. That investigation included multiple interviews with witnesses and review of campus security video footage and social media posts. 

The case had remained open for months following West’s appearance.  

According to police reports obtained by The Spectrum, all three complainants said they were chased by a “group of approximately 50 to 100 people” from the Student Union to O’Brian Hall. One student organizer who filed a report removed their shoes because they “could not run fast enough with them on” and hid from protestors in a men’s bathroom on the second floor of O’Brian with another UB student. A second student organizer said they passed the bathroom and “continued to run, eventually losing the group in a different building.” A third student organizer said they ran from O’Brian to Knox Hall, where an individual “kicked [them] in the testicles and punched [them] twice in the back.”


One student organizer said they wanted to pursue charges while the other two were uncertain, the reports said. 

Although student organizers’ names and personal information were redacted in police reports, the events described are consistent with statements then-UB YAF president Therese Purcell made to local media outlets like The Buffalo News and WKBW. In the days after West’s speech, Purcell said she was chased by hundreds of students into a men’s bathroom and that the club treasurer, Patrick Wilkinson, was punched and kicked near Knox Hall. 

Security camera footage obtained by The Spectrum from the night of the event shows about 10 UPD officers escorting West and YAF e-board members through a crowd of protestors to an SUV waiting in the Student Union courtyard. Purcell, wearing a red dress, can be seen walking with four other individuals toward the spine. Some of the protestors leaving the Student Union begin following them — some running, some walking. Purcell and the others can then be seen running into O’Brian and up a staircase, with students in pursuit. 

Police interviewed the student organizer who was kicked in the groin on April 20, 2022. The student couldn’t describe their alleged assailant any more than they already had or identify an image of the person who struck them in a cell phone video taken by a friend of the organizer. The organizer declined to provide a deposition. Police also interviewed potential witnesses who were present at or near Knox, none of whom said they saw the organizer get punched or kicked. 

No charges were filed because “there was no video or other means to identify the individuals who were allegedly responsible,” Della Contrada said. 

The other two complainants said that none of the protestors who chased them “ever made physical contact” and that they couldn’t recall any direct threats made against them. A UPD officer investigating the incident said that one of the student organizers “was very frustrated during our interaction and repeatedly attempted to question me and generally expressed disappointment with the university’s response to the incident.” 

“Although numerous individuals could be seen on security video following students through the campus after the event, the intent to harass or cause physical harm by any specific individual(s) could not be proven by the available evidence,” Della Contrada said. 

Under New York State law, individuals can be found guilty of harassment for following someone in public but only if they do so “with intent to harass, annoy or alarm another person.” 

Purcell, who has since graduated, declined a request for comment from The Spectrum

“The disinterest of the UB administration is unbelievable and alarming,” Purcell told The New Guard, YAF’s official publication, in August. “This really showed me that the school and campus police do not care about the safety of conservative students on campus.”

UPD also investigated several anonymous Yik Yak posts made against protestors, one of which read, “If they keep yelling it’s gonna become target practice.” Police determined that the posts “were not traceable to any individual” and didn’t represent “credible threats” to campus, Della Contrada said. 

Alongside UPD’s investigation, UB administrators conducted their own review of the events surrounding West’s speech. That review resulted in several changes, Della Contrada said, including a new requirement that student organizers develop event security plans with UPD; the development of  “enhanced educational programming for students” in order “to create a better

understanding of free speech protections;” and new guidelines concerning the venue space, ticketing procedures and attendance management for student-organized events. 

UPD Deputy Chief Josh Sticht didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Grant Ashley is the managing editor and can be reached at grant.ashley@ubspectrum.com


GRANT ASHLEY
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Grant Ashley is the editor in chief of The Spectrum. He's also reported for NPR, WBFO, WIVB and The Buffalo News. He enjoys taking long bike rides, baking with his parents’ ingredients and recreating Bob Ross paintings in crayon. He can be found on the platform formerly known as Twitter at @Grantrashley. 

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