Sep. 1, 2014

Students shouldn’t allow the Williamsburg Police to overstep boundaries

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September 17, 2013

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On the evening of Friday, Sept. 6, my housemates and I threw a party at our house near Griffin Avenue. We actively managed the noise, and at no point did we judge the volume to be burdensome to the neighbors (who, I should say, are all students). In fact, we asked one neighbor the next day, and she had not heard a single thing all night. Despite these precautions, we witnessed a display of unprofessional, insulting and illegal behavior from three Williamsburg police officers.

At around 12:10 a.m., three officers of the Williamsburg Police Department arrived at our home. After briefly talking in the front yard, two officers began to walk into the side yard when my housemate and I both indicated that we did not grant them permission to enter the property. The officers immediately adopted an aggressive, threatening and mocking attitude.

One officer threateningly pointed his finger at me and said, “What are you, a constitutional lawyer? Don’t tell us how to do our jobs, and shut your mouth.” We continued to cooperatively inform the officers that we did not consent to a search of our property, and were again told, “Shut your mouth.” The officers made many other statements that evening that were unnecessarily aggressive, unprofessional and flat-out disrespectful.

My housemates and I watched as one officer walked through the entirety of our side yard, some 50 feet back from the street, shining his flashlight in our windows and on our porch. He then exited the back of the property and entered the side yard of the house behind our own. At no point were the officers granted permission to enter the properties, nor did they provide probable cause, clearly violating our fourth amendment protections from unreasonable search.

This is not an isolated incident; it exemplifies an increasingly visible bias and unprofessional attitude that the Williamsburg Police employ against student residents of Williamsburg. I know from speaking with other students that similar experiences are common. Those who exist to protect and serve are knowingly stepping on students’ basic rights and treating us with aggression and disrespect. Students need to stand up, assert their rights as full and equal citizens of this city, and demand the same treatment and basic courtesy that older residents receive.

I am writing to tell every College of William and Mary student that they do not have to put up with being treated this unfairly. If something like this happens to you, file a complaint against the officers to the chief of police, contact your Student Assembly representative, email studentassembly@email.wm.edu, or call Scott Foster on City Council — do not just sit back and take it.

Email Joshua Fleitman at jnfleitman@email.wm.edu.

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Joshua Fleitman

(7) Readers Comments

  1. derp
    September 17, 2013 at 12:40 PM

    Cameras, pretty much everyone has one. Use them. That being said if you want to try to screw a cop while hosting a house party in williamsburg you're going to not enjoy the consequences. Are you: Yelling or shouting or making other vocal noises above conversation level between 11pm and 7am that someone across a property line could hear? Are you: playing music that is audible (again is it possible to hear it period) from the sidewalk? Again these laws are ridiculous but if the cops wanted to they could totally fine everyone at the party 100 bucks at minimum. I think these laws are ridiculous by the way, but any time you try to flex your constitutional muscle you can reasonably expect cops to decide to flex their "enforcing ridiculous laws" muscle.

  2. Greg
    September 17, 2013 at 1:36 PM

    I don't agree with the language they used, if it is in fact accurate, but the main point of this article seems to be that they searched the premises without a warrant- they don't need a warrant to search if they have probable cause that there is illegal activity (i.e. underage drinking, which is reasonably common around a college, shocker) occurring on the premises. Probable cause in most instances waives warrant requirements. In the instance such as a college party, the officers were entirely within their rights to search the premise, which it doesn't even sound like from this case they entered the facility. This is an isolated incident, and I'm not trying to defend them from other wrongs they may have committed, but their actions in this situation were justified- to me this article seems as though it is written more out of passion than an actual factual basis.

  3. Balthazar
    September 17, 2013 at 3:41 PM

    This is a rant, not journalism. Telling a one-sided tale, creating a straw man, and then saying "Of course this isn't an isolated incident!" is rhetorically infantile. Look, respect goes both ways, and by your utter lack of concession and consideration for the local police force, you made your perspective clear. Am I supposed to believe that your attitude was respectful, and the impetus of aggression came from the officers? I think we all know that this is wishful thinking. The silly thing is, if you had handled this story maturely, you could have given it merit. It's not impossible to convince me of police overreach. But your attitude here makes me believe three things that may or may not be true - 1. You behaved in a rude and childish manner at the party 2. You had reason to not cooperate, that is, you were breaking the law. Which leads one to believe that the officers had probable cause. 3. Rather than rely on legal intelligence to make a reasonable point, you are hopelessly emoting in a vacuous piece, hoping to create a general bias and unrest among your peers.

    • Dorv
      September 17, 2013 at 4:11 PM

      "This is a rant, not journalism." "Posted In: Opinions"

    • Josh
      September 17, 2013 at 4:23 PM

      I'm glad to see that my article has sparked a debate among students. That's exactly what I think we need. Unfortunately, I was limited to 450 words, and If i'd had more space I think I could have addressed some of your concerns. I began my official complaint against the officers, which I recently sent to the chief of police, by saying "I have a strong respect for the police department and the law, I understand that the police serve an important societal function, and I am well aware of the stresses and difficulties associated with enforcing the law in a city with a population so demographically divided between young student residents and older adult residents." I agree with you that it would be unfair of me to blindly criticize the police and all they do -- the police serve an important function. In this instance, I believe that their function was eroded by unprofessional behavior. Frankly, I don't care if you don't believe that the police initiated the aggression; my housemates and I were there, and we know what happened. I've personally spoken to numerous other students who have had experiences very similar to mine. On the question of probable cause: The officers never made clear to us that they had probable cause. The fact that a party is going on, which we never tried to hide from the officers, does not give probable cause that any laws are being broken. How can you tell that underage drinking is occurring from outside the house? Simply assuming that underage drinking is occurring because we are near a college campus, in my mind, is not adequate probable cause to justify entering a property. It's certainly not a justification for the unprofessional behavior. The desire to not have police officers on your property does not indicate that you have something to hide, it just indicates that you don't want police officers on your property. I'm not trying to create a bias among students, and I apologize if this piece made it seem like I am. I was trying to give voice to an opinion that I know for a fact many students in Williamsburg share, but never vocalized to the rest of the campus or to the City itself. My hope was that by giving voice to the issue, others would feel comfortable discussing it, and that a more constructive dialogue could be made between students and the City. Finally, I don't deny that this article was driven mostly by emotion. The behavior I and my housemates witnessed made me mad. However I fail to see how that makes this instance any less important to document and discuss. I'm not an expert on the law, and the officers may well have been within their "legal" rights under unfair laws, but the main point that I wanted to highlight here was the unprofessionalism and aggressiveness with which the officers acted towards us. I appreciate your comment and your perspective, but I genuinely believe that if you were in my shoes, you would feel the same way I do.

  4. catalase
    September 17, 2013 at 9:26 PM

    Next time, politely request and write down their names and badge numbers. If a an official police vehicle(s) is/are present record the license plate number and any identifying characteristics (make, model, color, car number), without stepping off your property if at all possible--you don't want to be arrested for drunk in public. Don't interfere with their investigation, however, you should assert your constitutional rights wherever applicable. Do not consent to any searches or seizures. Have a video camera available (with audio), preferably one that does not have footage of any illegal activities as it is entirely possible that they may seize your camera if they deem that you are "interfering with an investigation", or "obstructing justice", or some other bullshit charge. Serve the officers an oral trespassing warning and send a written complaint to the Williamsburg Chief of Police. Finally, continue to publicly write about any blatantly unprofessional or illegal behavior by public officials.

  5. LoveIsTheWay
    September 17, 2013 at 11:13 PM

    From the way the author has comported himself, both in the writing of this article and his response to the dissenting comments, I see no reason to assume that he or his companions were anything other than respectful or that this was an isolated incident. To assume so based purely on their status as college students is the same mentality that likely contributed to these officers to be so abusive. The language of the officers clearly indicates a complete lack of respect for students in the culture of the William and Marry police department. With the police-student power dynamics this lack of respect will certainly lead to regular abuses. The culture must be changed.

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