Vice President for Institutional Partnerships and Chief Diversity Officer Sonia Mañjon has begun an investigation into an incident that occurred on the night of Oct. 29 between a student and three Public Safety (PSafe) officers. The student, Paulie Lowther ’13, alleges that two of the three PSafe officers he encountered that night used excessive physical force against him. The officers found him in the Freeman Athletic Center while it was closed to students during Superstorm Sandy, and Lowther said the officers slammed his head against a wall and hit him in the head three times.
Lowther was charged with violating five possible Regulations in the Code of Non-Academic Conduct (CNAC): Regulation 1, Privacy and Tranquility; Regulation 2, Harassment and Abuse; Regulation 4, Property; Regulation 5, False Information; and Regulation 14, Failure to Comply. The Student Judicial Board (SJB) ruled on Lowther’s case this past Thursday, Nov. 8; the Board gave him a sanction of a deferred suspension, defined by the SJB’s website as a temporary status for a period to be established by the Board, during which the student’s standing within the University is in jeopardy. The website also says that additional violations during the probationary period will result in suspension or dismissal.
A medical note from the Davison Health Center confirms that Lowther is currently being treated for a concussion, which Lowther said was a result of PSafe’s actions that Monday night.
The incident took place around midnight on Monday in the pool area of Freeman Athletic Center, which was off-limits to students due to the late hour and the weather conditions surrounding the Superstorm. Additionally, Mayor of Middletown Dan Drew had established an 8 p.m. curfew for the city that night. Lowther, having heard from other students that a door was propped open that night, said that he entered the Athletic Center to use the sauna and pool.
Director of Public Safety Dave Meyer said that, though he cannot comment on incidents with specific students, Lowther’s account is very different from the statements from the three PSafe officers. Lowther said that he agreed there were discrepancies after looking at the officers’ statements last week and said that two students—one hiding in the sauna and one hiding in the locker room during the interaction—overheard the alleged assault against him. Both witnesses asked to remain anonymous.
Interim Assistant Director of Student Life Jonathan Connary and Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Richard Culliton declined to comment on the situation and cited confidentiality reasons. Editor and New Media Writer for the Office of Communications Lauren Rubenstein wrote in an email to The Argus that Lowther made a formal complaint to Mañjon and that Mañjon is now investigating the conflicting accounts of the incident. Mañjon wrote in an email to The Argus that she is still in the process of collecting information about the incident.
The Argus has received word that the University will release a formal statement in the coming days. Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) President Zachary Malter ’13 also said that WSA members will be meeting with Lowther and various administrators to discuss how to proceed.
“We support an investigation into whether the student was being mistreated,” Malter said. “And if the student was mistreated, we will push for immediate action to be taken and policy to be reconsidered and changed.”
According to Lowther and the first witness, there were approximately five to seven other students in the Athletic Center that night. Lowther, who was nude at the time of the incident, explained that he was in the sauna with the first witness when he heard the other students yelling that PSafe had entered the building.
“I stuck my head out [of the sauna] and a PSafe officer lady saw me,” Lowther said. “So I closed the door to the sauna—I wasn’t really trying to run away at this point.”
Lowther and the first witness have both said that the female PSafe officer came up to the sauna door to ask who was inside. They said that the officer believed only Lowther was inside, and would not let him out of the sauna. Consequently, Lowther said he was asked to give his WesID number through the door. Lowther believes that in the confusion the officer wrote down an incorrect number, so that when she called it in over her radio she was told that the number was not in Wesleyan’s system.
Lowther, who was still naked, allegedly asked to use the bathroom and get his clothes, which were outside the sauna. He told the officer that his Wesleyan Track jacket was among his belongings in order to prove to her that he was a student. The officer said he could not leave the sauna.
“It’s written in her statement that I asked for my clothes,” Lowther said. “I really did it so that she would recognize I’m part of the University.”
Lowther was let out of the sauna after the arrival of a male PSafe officer, whom Lowther identified as officer #44. The first witness explained that she hid in the sauna for the rest of the interaction between Lowther and PSafe and said she was able to hear the altercation from there.
“[I could hear] the entire thing,” she said. “The sauna is adjacent to the showers, and then there’s a long hall, and it’s just in that hall that I’m assuming everything happened.”
The second witness, who was hiding from PSafe in the locker room, also confirmed that she could hear the interaction.
“I would like to note that I heard everything that went on during the incident clearly and Paulie was not treated justly by Public Safety,” the second witness wrote in an email to The Argus.
Lowther explained that officer #44 put Lowther’s hands behind his back abruptly, though Lowther said he believes the situation had been calm until that point. He said that the male officer continued to ask him for his WesID number, along with the names of the other students who were inside.
“I was like, ‘Sir, your other officer has all this information,’” Lowther said. “‘I told her who I am, I told her my address, I told her everything [about] my affiliation with campus.’ And he continued to not let my arm go and said, ‘Don’t resist.’ And I said, ‘I’m not resisting; the only thing I’m resisting is you breaking my arm.’”
Officer #44 then supposedly asked Lowther to get on the ground, a request that Lowther declined. After the two exchanged more words, Lowther said that the officer took his head and smashed it against the wall of the hall.
The first witness said she felt frightened throughout the entire interaction.
“It was really scary,” she said. “That’s the only emotion I can use to describe the situation. Because [Lowther] is not a harmful person, at all. At all. And I mean, I agree that you shouldn’t yell at people older than you, but I think they were being a little absurd, not going to lie, about the whole situation.”
Afterward, Lowther asked the officer why he had become physical. Lowther noted that he yelled the question, as well as other dialogue, loudly enough so that the student witnesses could hear what was going on in the hallway. The first witness confirmed that, even in her hiding spot, she heard Lowther’s head hit the wall. She also said that, from the dialogue outside, Lowther made it clear to her what was going on.
“He was just like, ‘You just pushed my face against this wall, I am bruised on my cheek,’” she said. “And I admit, it was getting really loud, even between the officers and Paulie,” she said. “It was really scary. I knew at this point I was never coming out because it terrified me…It was really aggressive [in] tone.”
According to Lowther, he then acquiesced to the officer’s original request and lowered himself to the ground of his own will. He said that the officer then placed his knee on Lowther’s back. Lowther maintains that he was calm throughout the situation, although Lowther said the PSafe report states that he was calm only after he was on the ground. Lowther also said that the officer continued to ask him if he knew any information about a subject in red sweatpants.
“Then officer #23 walks [over], and he keeps questioning me about the kid in the red sweatpants,” Lowther said. “I don’t know if the subject got away from him, I don’t know if the subject hit [him], but he seemed really angry for some reason. [Then] he was like, ‘And your Wes ID doesn’t check out either,’ and he just hit me three times in the face with his hand.”
Lowther claims that the two witnesses could hear the three hits from their hiding places nearby. Both witnesses corroborated this claim.
“I was just listening to the whole thing,” the first witness said. “Paulie is saying his WesID again to some other officers who come in. And then I hear like three [clapping sounds]. I had thought Paulie was clapping. And I was like, ‘Okay, I don’t know what this is.’ But then he’s like, ‘Wow, you just smacked me.’ He told us what was going on. He kept asking all the officers like, ‘Why did you do that?’ But none of the officers answered him.”
Lowther said that he remained on the ground under the force of officer #44 while officer #23 continued to ask for his WesID, to which Lowther responded by asking the officer for his badge number.
“And then after that, he kept questioning my affiliation with the University,” Lowther said. “At this point I’m still on the ground, naked, being held by this other officer with his knees in my back.”
Once the officers received word over the radio that Lowther’s WesID number was recognized, he was allowed to stand up. According to Lowther, the officers received this information about two minutes after he was struck in the face.
After PSafe allowed Lowther to stand freely and dress himself, Lowther said that he conversed with the female officer about his studies in theater at the University for about 10 minutes. He was also offered an ambulance, which he declined. During this time, a few Middletown Police officers arrived at the scene.
Lowther said that he asked the Middletown Police and PSafe officers if he was allowed to turn off the sauna, to which he did not hear a response. He said that he did so anyway.
“So I walked over, and I turned it off really quickly,” he explained. “And [a Middletown Police officer] said, ‘You don’t listen to instructions very well, do you?’ and I said, ‘No, maybe you should speak with a little bit more projection or a little more diction,’ and that’s when the PSafe officer decided that I needed to be in handcuffs.”
Middletown Police then placed Lowther in handcuffs and escorted him outside. He was then returned to his home on Fountain Avenue.
In the days following the incident, Lowther met with Dean for Academic Advancement and Dean for the Class of 2013 Louise Brown, as well as Connary and Culliton.
“I went into North College [last] Wednesday morning,” Lowther said. “I just feel like they always take Public Safety’s word over anyone else’s. They were saying my story was a bit theatrical in comparison to the other stories. But then reading Public Safety’s story I was like, ‘Wow, I can tell why.’”
On Thursday, Nov. 1, Lowther went to the Davison Health Center and later received a medical note signed by Medical Director for Wesleyan Athletics Adam Perrin. The note states that he is receiving treatment for a concussion.
Both the Hartford Courant and the Middletown Patch published articles on Nov. 6 pertaining to the incident involving Lowther and PSafe. The two articles say that Lowther appeared intoxicated and tried to run away from the officers at full speed. The articles also quote Lowther as saying, “If I had a baton, I would beat you with it.”
Lowther said that he was not intoxicated that night, and that if the officers had breathalyzed him, he would have been well under the legal limit. The first witness agreed with this statement.
The second witness said that she was surprised by parts of the articles in the Hartford Courant and Middletown Patch.
“I know [that Lowther running away at ‘full speed’] is false because during the entire interaction they were right on the other side of the locker room door, their voices didn’t get further away,” she wrote in an email to The Argus. “Seeing as Paulie is one of the fastest sprinters on the track team, if he had tried to run away at full speed he would have gotten further than the 2 feet of space they occupied right behind the door.”
She also contested the quote from Lowther saying that he would beat the officers with a baton if he could.
“Paulie said almost exactly ‘If you were beating me with a baton I would be resisting you but I am standing here on my own accord’ (may have been my own free will),” she wrote. “I am not entirely sure, but I remember this exchange of words.”
According to Lowther, he is being charged with Criminal Trespass and Breach of Peace, and he will appear in the Middletown Superior Court on Nov. 9.
Contributing Writer Stephanie Ling contributed reporting to this article.
For an interview with Lowther, see Wesleying’s coverage of the incident here.