Mt. SAC employees and public safety rack up First Amendment violations against student media, violate Clery Act

Story by Jennifer Sandy on behalf of SAC.Media

One year ago on April 24, our now defunct print newspaper, The Mountaineer, released an editorial by Albert Serna which called attention to the fact that Mt. San Antonio College’s public safety department had been refusing to cooperate with the student media. Sadly, nothing has changed. In fact, things have gotten worse.

In light of a recent story released on SAC.Media earlier this week that reported on the YouTube video release in which former Mt. SAC student, Aarefah Mosavi, accused current Mt. SAC student and math tutor, Chester Brown, of raping her on campus in December of 2013 and the administration of covering it up, college administration has cut off all communication with the student media.

In addition, the Mt. San Antonio Public Safety Department has been advised not to speak with us. College president, Bill Scroggins, who previously had been available to the student media, refuses to answer any questions on the matter. Administration has since been referring us to the public information office.

On Thurs., April 23 when responding to sirens heard on campus, three of my colleagues and I were led to the child development center, a building across the street from the main campus. There, we were told by public safety officer Kevin House that there had been a small electrical fire in the kitchen which was promptly put out by an employee. House added that he and the rest of the public safety department have been told not to answer the student media’s questions.

“We can’t talk to you,” House said. “Well, we’ve been advised not to talk to you guys.”

During that assignment, Mercedes Vossburg, a fellow reporter, was forced to delete pictures of the child development center from her camera by the center’s director, Tamika Addison. None of the photos contained pictures of children and all were taken in a public parking lot outside of the child care center. The Student Press Law Center (SPLC) has advised us to never delete any photos for any reason when told to do so by police, public safety, administrators, or faculty. They also told us that we had every right to take those pictures on public property.

The fact that public safety has been “advised” not to speak with us, and that my colleague was forced to delete pictures she had every right to take, is not only a violation of our First Amendment rights as students, but a violation of Mt. SAC employees’ First Amendment Rights as well. Freedom of speech and freedom of the press are serious laws to tamper with. The First Amendment protects every American’s right to freedom of speech, and it also prohibits anyone from attempting to infringe on that right. An employer cannot tell an employee who they can and cannot speak with.

Public Safety has previously claimed that allowing student journalists to report on campus and take photos of stories involving accidents, stabbings, injuries and the like is a violation of the subject’s Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) rights. It is not. In fact, according to Serna’s editorial, the former Director of Public Safety Mark DiMaggio admitted that HIPAA does not apply and that his officers have been wrong in citing it on several occasions. On one occasion, a professor collapsed on campus and an ambulance transported her to a local hospital. The student reporters were blocked from taking pictures of the incident by campus police and told to leave. They cited HIPAA violations. And this practice by the public safety officers continues today.

The staff thought that things could not get worse after administration impeded the flow of information to the student media, but it has.

On Thurs., April 23, during an on campus peaceful demonstration protesting that Brown has yet to face any disciplinary action by the college for the alleged rape and is still employed as a math tutor, I personally witnessed photographer Pablo Unzueta being assaulted by Mt. SAC professor and math tutoring center coordinator Rene Pyle. Video evidence shows Unzueta was taking pictures of Public Safety Officer Anthony Kelly attempting to restrain protesters, when Pyle pushed him, punched his camera, and attempted to remove his camera from around his neck.

Unzueta, who did not fight back, insisted she take her hands off of his camera. She had to be pulled off of Unzueta by another Mt. SAC employee. That’s when Pyle realized I was recording her and turned her attention to me. I informed her I am a member of the student media and as such I had every right to record her.

According to Student Press Law Center attorney Adam Goldstein, it is unconstitutional to prohibit reporters from taking pictures in a public place, or to require them to delete pictures taken in such a space.

In addition to being in violation of the constitution on multiple occasions, the college is also in violation of the Clery Act by failing to keep their police log up to date and available within 48 hours which carries fines up to hundreds of thousands of dollars. The act requires colleges to disclose information about crimes on and around their campus. Not only did public safety never publicly release a report about Mosavi’s alleged rape, but they have also consistently refused to give the student media any information regarding the incident, which should be public record.

Content Editor of student media and student newsroom lab assistant Albert Serna requested a police log from public safety on Mon., April 21. He was told that forms needed to be filled out. He asked for the forms and was told they did not have them. Serna wrote a letter requesting the forms citing the Clery Act, and delivered it to public safety the next day. He was told by parking and securities technician Sylvia Hinkle to hold on while she made a phone call. She returned shortly after and said that Serna could pick up the logs on Friday.

According to the SPLC, all college police and security need to keep an active crime log up to date and available within 48 hours. They did not present them within 48 hours. It took them 72 hours to produce the log.
SPLC informed us that, “If it is not clearly visible or up to date that would mean a lot of trouble for them and the school.” After six months the log can be archived.

Editor-in-Chief of SAC.Media Nick Moore went to pick up the campus police log Fri., April 24, and was given three pieces of paper. Two appear to be police logs like the ones we have picked up in the past, with an official Mt. SAC logo on top, but the one from 2013 looks different and has no official logo on top. It is important to note that there is no entry of a sexual assault on campus that matches the one Mosavi said she reported.

There are two entries between December 2013 and April 2014, the time period in which Mosavi would have reported the incident: one from March 5, 2014 at 11:30 a.m. (not evening as Mosavi reported) for “unwanted advances” in the design building, building 13 (not where Mosavi reported the rape took place), and one from April 21, 2014 for “student misconduct/sexual harassment” in Building 26B (also not the place where Mosavi reported the rape took place) and at 9:45 a.m., not in the evening as Mosavi reported.

Mt. SAC officials and public safety employees have repeatedly violated the rights of the student media over the years. However, the refusal to cooperate with the student media this week is absolutely unprecedented. In addition, the treatment of the student media by Mt. SAC employees like Rene Pyle and Tamika Addison is outrageous and illegal.

We urge everyone to help continue the fight for transparency so we can keep those that govern us and those that are supposed to protect us honest. SAC.Media will continue to report the facts and fight for the rights of Mt. SAC journalists and students with or without the legally required cooperation of the administration and public safety department.

Photo illustration by Cynthia Schroeder

For up to date coverage visit @SAConScene

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