Echoes of Fear Still Ring Out
A year and a half after the Dec. 15, 2006 murder of Laura Dickinson committed on Eastern Michigan University’s campus students still fear for their safety.
“I would tell them I completely understand their apprehension,” said Student Body President Greg Jones. “However, the problems that have occurred in the past are largely a result of systematic failures that have now been highlighted and are being resolved.”
According to the Program Review Report by the U.S. Department of Education from June 29, 2007, from the time of the murder to the time of the arrest “EMU did not provide any relevant information to the campus that would alert it of a potential safety threat.”
“It was frustrating because the misinformation and then the murder revelation caused students to fear and be angry,” said former Student body President during the Dickinson murder Daniel Cicchini. “What the police did may not necessarily have endangered students but the way the information came out created terrible fear. Students were never in danger but the way the info was handled was irresponsible.”
“There are no benefits for covering up crimes,” said the new DPS Chief Greg O’Dell. “I think it is important to be completely open and honest.”
The Department of Education in their Program Review Report concluded EMU was noncompliant in several areas with the Clery Act.
EMU failed to provide a “Timely Warning” in response to a homicide investigation, had a lack of administrative capability, lacked a timely warning policy, failed to properly disclose crime statistics, lacked adequate policy statements, failed to report all required statistics occurring on public property and in non-campus buildings or property, and failed to properly maintain a crime log.
“I can think of one or two incidents in all of the years that I have been working where it was briefly beneficial to withhold information,” said Chief O’Dell. “Withholding information almost never makes sense.”
According to the report EMU misreported sexual offense crimes in the Annual Security Report for 2003-2005. Four non-forcible sex offenses in 2003, one non-forcible sex offense in 2004, and three non-forcible sex offenses in 2005 met the definition for and should have been reported as forcible criminal sexual conduct incidents.
EMU also misreported campus judiciary referrals and arrest statistics related to alcohol, drug and illegal weapons possession violations.
The report also points out information listed in electronic form and on the Internet has conflicted with information in the Annual Security Report. For example, crimes have not been categorized by location as required by law. Time frames have also been left out of reporting. EMU has also been accused of inaccurately or not in a timely matter updating the campus crime log maintained by DPS and required by law.
“I would absolutely comply with federal law,” said Chief O’Dell. “You are doing a great disservice not to come forward with information. If we have information that applies why not tell [the community].”
Security on Campus, Inc filed a formal complaint against EMU for violating the Clery Act. EMU was accused of withholding information and not presenting the campus community with a “timely warning” that a potential murder was committed on campus.
On Dec. 15, 2006, 22-year-old Laura Dickinson of Hastings was found dead on the floor of her dorm room on the fifth floor of Hill Hall. Dickinson was found naked from the waist down with a pillow over her head.
On Dec. 16, 2006 EMU released a written statement explaining, “at this point there is no reason to suspect foul play.” A series of reasons for Dickinson’s death soon followed. A potential drug and/or alcohol overdose was ruled out by an autopsy. A heart condition was also blamed for the death and later ruled out.
In Eastern Echo reporter Christine Laughren’s “Student Found Dead in Dorm,” Dickenson’s father is quoted as saying he did not believe his daughter died as a result of violence. The article was published on Jan. 9, 2007.
On Feb. 23, 2007, 21-year-old Orange Taylor III was arrested and charged with the rape and murder of Dickinson.
“Students did not necessarily have the right to know all of the details of the investigation,” said Cicchini. “But students had a right to not deliberately be lied to and to be informed.”
“There was a complete lack of the proper structure to handle an on-campus murder,” said Jones. “As a result, EMU was caught off guard and some people made some decisions that hurt the university pretty badly.”
After the complaint was lodged by Security on Campus, Inc, Vice President for Student Affairs Jim Vick was placed on paid administrative leave. Eventually, Vick, President John Fallon, and Director of Public Safety and Chief of Police Cindy Hall were fired.
“To my understanding they were involved in the investigation,” said Cicchini. “I did not know more than what other students were told. I think there was a series of poor decisions and correctable mistakes.”
According to the Ann Arbor News, EMU settled with the Dickinson family for $2.5 million. However, the settlement did not include an admission of liability on the part of the university.
According to Transcript.com EMU was fined $357,000 for violating the Clery Act. The University was found guilty of committing 13 offenses against the federal law.
According to the Ann Arbor News even after EMU was cited for violating federal law, the campus failed to issue a campus wide security alert four months after the incident.
Two students witnessed an intruder grab a computer and flee from their room Nov. 1, 2007. EMU failed to comply with the Clery Act while being scrutinized for violating the Clery Act.
“One thing I am doing is evaluating all procedures,” said Chief O’Dell. “I have issued new ones and worked with legal council. Some have already taken affect.”
While there was a murder on campus and there are occasional crimes EMU’s crime statistics are comparable to other large universities. According to the EMU safety and security website the Dickinson murder was the only on-campus homicide in EMU’s 159-year history.
“I did a matrix of crime statistics,” said Chief O’Dell. “I put together the MAC schools and local Michigan schools. We are in the middle or bottom third of most of the statistics.”
The Department of Education Report does site errors in statistical reporting of crimes by EMU, however, also points out EMU has seen a decline in sex offenses, robberies and aggravated assaults since 2005 to 2006.
“Campus safety efforts have been stepped up in hiring an outside security firm to augment the existing framework, SEEUS hours have been expanded and just about every member of the administration was required to attend a two-day training session on the Clery Act,” said Jones. “The systematic issues that caused the subsequent debacle seems to have been resolved.”
According to the EMU safety and security website EMU has experienced a drop in the number of forcible sexual offenses. The sexual offenses on EMU’s campus have dropped from 11 to six during the last year.
EMU also installed over 200 security cameras, added swipe cards at the entrances of 11 residence halls and changed more than 5,500 locks.
“I think the university offers many services to assist in being prepared to deal with crime,” said Jones. “The situation is slowly improving.”
EMU offers crime prevention seminars. Since 1987 there have been over 1,200 seminars.
Some seminars include rape aggression defense, theft prevention and self-defense protection. For more information on crime prevention seminars contact Officer Candice Dorsey at (734) 487-0987.