A University of Wyoming investigation claims there is “no evidence of racial profiling or discrimination” after six American Indian high school students were detained by campus police at the UW bookstore.
A patron had alerted store clerks of a suspicion that one of the students — all Native American, and all male — may have been shoplifting. But voluntary searches turned up no such evidence, and the students were eventually released.
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In a memo sent to University of Wyoming president Dick McGinity, university vice president and general counsel Rick Miller summarized the results of an Equal Opportunity Report and Response investigation. The procedure is laid out in UW policy, and it was initiated by a UW bookstore staff member after receiving a discrimination complaint from one of the students’ relatives.
The report found that no bookstore staff, patron, or police officer made any reference to race during the Sept. 26 incident. It detailed the events in which a store patron suspected two males, who were wearing white shirts with red lettering, of starting to put a brown shirt into a bag. The patron reported the suspicion to three store employees at the customer service desk.
The Native American boys were students from St. Stephens Indian High School on the Wind River Indian Reservation who were attending Campus Pass, a prospective student event. All were wearing the same white t-shirts with red lettering.
Earlier in the day they had all been given a gift bag containing a UW t-shirt as part of Campus Pass. Store staff asked to look inside the bags of all six students — reportedly based on the fact that they all wore the same white shirt described by the patron alleging shoplifting — and found no evidence of potential theft.
Store staff had also contacted UW Campus Police to report suspected shoplifting “in accordance with store policy,” the report states. When a UW police officer arrived she assessed the situation and directed the students to a private conference room in the back of the store “to avoid calling attention of other patrons to the contact between the officer and the six males,” according to the report. The officer did not repeat the search of the students’ bags, according to the report.
That point contradicts a previous media report of the incident by County 10, which said students were searched twice, once by store staff and then again by UW police.
The officer also found four of the students were minors. “To conform with state law, UW’s practice is to contact a parent or guardian of any juvenile with whom the UW police make contact,” the memo states. Students were kept in the conference room until all parents had been notified.
“They’re all applying to the University,” St. Stephens principal Cheryl Meyers said in an interview with Wyoming Public Media earlier this week. “I think for a few of them it is going to affect that — their thought process on whether the University of Wyoming is a place they wish to attend. … They were intimidated. Their names, numbers, personal information was taken down. I think they really felt isolated.”
During the investigation UW president Dick McGinity visited the Wind River Reservation for a previously scheduled event, during which he met with St. Stephens principal Meyers. St. Stephens Indian High School is a Bureau of Indian Affairs-operated facility located at St. Stephens Mission near the Wind River Casino, about three miles southwest of Riverton.
“Among the topics of discussion for President McGinity and principal Meyers was the university’s desire to provide a welcoming environment for people of all backgrounds,” according to UW spokesman Chad Baldwin.
Meyers could not be reached immediately for comment on the report.
UPDATE October 8, 2015 4:40 p.m.:
Principal Meyers has released a statement critical of UW’s report, saying no member of her staff was contacted in relation to the bookstore investigation prior to releasing the memo.
She called the investigation “an insult to the intelligence of myself, the students and their parents, and every reasonable prudent citizen of our Nation.” The investigation “missed the mark” by looking only at university policy, and not at constitutional rights, Meyers wrote.
Importantly, Meyer noted the report failed to mention that the red lettering on the t-shirts clearly showed the students were from an Indian school. “It is clear that the students’ race was clearly at issue and identifiable by the ‘lettering’ on the shirt,” Meyers wrote. She noted that two other Caucasian individuals in the store wore the same shirts, but were not detained or searched.
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Meyers claimed that students were told by bookstore staff that they could not leave, and felt they were unreasonably detained. Three students were searched twice and one was searched three times. She recommended UW vice president and general counsel Rick Miller review People v. Celis, a 2004 California Supreme Court opinion on unreasonable search and seizure.
“At this point, I will make a formal recommendation to the Superintendent and School Board of Trustees of St. Stephens Indian School regarding moving forward with this issue,” Meyers wrote.