Friday, March 27, 2009



On March 24, 2009, I was pleased to participate in a panel discussion at the College of William & Mary Law School. Other members of the panel were:

Donald Chalis, Chief of Police, College of William & Mary.

R. Kelly Crace, Counseling Center, College of William & Mary.

Rebecca Hulse, Senior Lecturer in Law, William & Mary Law School and
Assistant Director, Privacy and Technology, Center for Legal and Court
Technology (a joint program of William & Mary Law School and the National
Center for State Courts)

The panel was moderated by Professor Paul Marcus, Haynes Professor of Law and Kelly Professor of Teaching Excellence, and hosted by James Heller, Director of the William & Mary Law Library who arranged the panel. Each speaker was given eight minutes, and as often happens at such events, I ended up with far more to say than I had time to say it in. So I’ve decided to post my complete thoughts here, so that will be available to anyone who is interested in further information on the topic.


I want to thank the William & Mary Law School for hosting this session. It is exactly in forums such as this one that Virginians can discuss and hopefully take the initial steps toward making our schools safer.

The title of this panel is “Terror on Campus: Security and Privacy on Our Campuses after Virginia Tech.” Unfortunately seven years after the murders at the Appalachian School of Law in Grundy, Virginia, and nearly two years after the massacre at Virginia Tech, students, faculty and staff on Virginia campuses are not as safe as they need to be.

The simple fact remains that until individuals who are in charge; until people who are in control understand that if they ignore clear warning signs costing the lives, they will pay a price, they will lose their jobs. Furthermore, until both houses of the Virginia legislature adopt laws that ensure that individuals who are a threat to themselves and others, receive treatment, and that weapons are kept out of those individuals’ hands—Virginia’s schools are not safe. Virginia voters should remove legislators who shy away from their duties to help ensure the safety of our schools.

There are three words that capture what I am trying to say and those three words are all around us in this building. We are in the law library of one of the best and most prestigious schools in this country. I am talking about three words that appear in almost every volume in this building; three words that are spoken in every court room in this land, every day: responsibility, accountability, and liability.

The parallels in both school shootings—the Appalachian School of Law and
Virginia Tech—are staggering. The litany of human failings in both tragedies knows no bounds. We learn nothing by glossing over these shortcomings, and we dishonor the dead students and faculty members by shying away from reality. The fact that these two tragedies took 35 innocent live and wounded scores of others.

We can engage in intellectual debates about the interpretation of this or that law; we can argue over what the founding fathers meant to guarantee in the second amendment—but the simple fact is that there can be no campus safety until school officials, law enforcement personnel, and politicians are held responsible for both their actions and inactions. While these intellectual debates have gone on, lives have been lost.

Ignoring the Warning Signs or Failing to Act

The Appalachian School of Law: A few weeks before the shooting, three female staff members’ complaints about the shooter, Peter Odighizuwa, were brought before the school’s “core administrative staff.” That staff included school President Ellsworth, Dean Anthony Sutin, and Associate Dean Paul Lund. Documents in the Wise County, Virginia Court House contain President Ellsworth’s words in brushing the complaints aside: “You women and your hormones and your women’s intuition……There is nothing you women need to be afraid of….It will be ok.” A few weeks after that meeting Dean Sutin, Professor Blackwell and student Angela Dales lay dead from Odighizuwa’s bullets.

Before that meeting Odighizuwa had pushed a professor away from a podium and taken over a class; he had threatened the school librarian; he had gotten into fights with other students; and he was banded from the Student Service’s Center without an escort because Center employees feared for their safety.

Virginia Tech University: The warning signs concerning Seung Hui Cho’s unstable and potentially violent nature were just as evident.

In November 2005, a year and a half before the killings, a female student filed a complaint with the Virginia Tech Police indicating that Cho had made “annoying” contact with her on the Internet, by phone, and in person. In December of that year another female student complained about Cho’s instant messages and that he went in disguise to, and entered a female student’s room. That same month a magistrate issued a temporary restraining order and Cho was transported to Carilion St. Albans Psychiatric Hospital for an overnight stay and evaluation. A staff psychiatrist determined Cho was not a threat to himself or to others, but did recommend outpatient counseling.

In the fall of 2005, Cho’s writings in Professor Nikki Giovanni’s “Creative Writing: Poetry” class were so dark and menacing that students dropped out. Professor Giovanni contacted the Dean of the English department saying unless Cho was removed form the class, she would resign.

In the spring of 2006, Cho wrote a paper for a creative writing class concerning a young man who hates the students at his school and plans to kill them and himself.

During the fall of 2006, two professors alert school officials about Cho’s abnormal behavior and recommend counseling--Professor Lisa Norris, a writing professor and Professor Falco, another writing professor.

While some of you may argue that hindsight is 20-20. I would argue that hindsight is foresight—as long as the signs are not ignored.

The State Police Refused to Turn Over Key Documents in Both Cases

As long as law enforcement officials refuse to turn over documents central to finding out what led up to these tragedies, we can never learn. In the words of one of the nation’s leading authorities on campus security and violence in the workplace—such a refusal is disgusting.

In the case of the Appalachian School of Law, Angela Dales received a threatening email several months before she was murdered. The email was in clear violation of both state and federal laws. The school and police failed to thoroughly investigate the email and the sender was never identified. Yet following the shooting, the police asserted the emails had nothing to do with Angela Dales’ murder. If you don’t know who sent the email, how can you make such an assertion? Furthermore, the police refused to let the dead student’s family look at the investigative report. The police did promise to read its content to the family and answer questions. Seven years later the family is still waiting for that to happen.

In 2005, I turned the threatening email over to the FBI. A special agent was aghast saying the email showed all signs of a serial killer and was upset that the Virginia State Police never turned it over to the FBI. The special agent immediately turned the email over to the FBI unit that handled the case that was the basis for The Silence of the Lambs.

In the case of Virginia Tech, the Virginia State Police, the ATF and the gun dealers each refused to provide the Governor’s Review Panel with copies of the applications Cho completed when he bought his weapons or other records relating to any background check that may have done in connection with these purchases. The most horrific school shooting in this country’s history and the state police, the ATF, and the gun dealers refuse to cooperate! This is disgraceful. The Virginia State Police did, however, DESCRIBE the contents of Cho’s gun purchases to members of the panel and its staff.

The failure of the Governor’s Review Panel to have access to all documents in analyzing the shootings and making recommendations, means the Panel’s report is badly flawed. Any one engaged in research on any university campus knows that access to the primary documents is critical to any analysis—hearsay and descriptions make for poor analysis.

Flawed or No Analysis of the Two Shootings

We will never learn if we do not analyze these tragedies, learn from that analysis, and turn the lessons into actions. In the case of the Appalachian School of Law no analysis was ever done. An opportunity was lost, an opportunity that might have helped identify Seung Hui Cho as a threat to himself and others.

In the case of Virginia Tech, the blue-ribbon panel established by Governor Kaine was badly flawed from the outset.

1. The panel was impeded in its work by FOIA rules that did not allow more than two members to meet together or speak by phone without it being considered a public meeting—bureaucracy at its worst.

2. The report did not address issues that needed to be addressed such as identifying mistakes in judgment and the individuals who should be held accountable for their actions or inactions.

3. The panel itself was a prime example of conflict of interest and/or bias. Former Homeland Secretary Tom Ridge publicly stated before the panel convened that the tragedy could not have been prevented—if that is not a bias, I don’t know what is. To suggest that a state panel investigating the activities of a state organization and state employees would be objective is ludicrous. And, there is the state’s appointed representative on the panel—the fact that the families did not select their representative does not speak well for the panel’s objectivity.

4. The final report itself engages in word games; sugar-coating glaring errors. For example the report divides its findings and recommendations into two categories: “What was done well, and what could have been done better.”

SUNY-Oneonta—Excellent Security

If you are looking for an example of an excellent school security program, look at the State University New York. The New York university system is implementing a security program and system that should be the model for all schools. I do not have time to go into it all, and will only say that from a central command post they can lockdown all campus building with four strokes on the computer key board. I have copies of SUNY’s system if anyone is interested.

Many of Virginia’s colleges and universities are woefully behind in implementing campus security plans and measures—woefully behind when compared to schools in other states. That is certainly true when it comes to both the Appalachian School of Law and Virginia Tech University.

I spent nearly one hour discussing campus security with Barton Ingersoll, Chief of University Police, State University of New York—Oneonta (SUNY—Oneonta). He is truly an impressive man in charge of an impressive security operation on a large college campus. If every school in this country had a security plan as well thought out and run as the one at Oneonta, our school grounds would be a far, far safer place. I have copies of the program that is already in place in New York.

The campus security at SUNY-Oneonta is a police department; therefore its officers carry weapons. The Regional Police Academy is tied to the campus police department. The academy runs a wide variety of specialized law enforcement courses, trains new officers, and trains officers to be instructors.

Chief Ingersoll told me that the SUNY-Oneonta campus has had an emergency plan in place since 1994, but since the tragedy at Virginia Tech, the school has tightened and improved campus security. The chief began by telling me that it is against the law to bring a weapon of any kind on a school campus in New York. That law covers both state and private schools. Indeed, every state university in New York is required to have an emergency plan in place, and the Oneonta and Binghamton campuses are the first to meet the state’s standard for security. Highlights of the SUNY—Oneonta plan include:

1. The ability to lock down every building on campus (with the exception of the gym) with four strokes on the computer keyboard.

2. Radio systems in all buildings for emergency use.

3. Blue prints of all campus buildings are on hand in the police headquarters in case of an emergency.

4. A Behavioral Assessment Team that meets every week to discuss student problems and activities. The group is made up of Chief Ingersoll, the Director of Counseling, the Director of Residence Life, the Associate Vice President for Judicial Affairs, the Vice President of Student Development, and the Health Center Director.

5. The Chief of Police has the power to act immediately and to take whatever action he deems necessary if an individual is thought to be a danger to himself or herself or others.

6. A campus-wide siren for notification that there is an emergency on campus.

7. The ability to notify all students, staff, and faculty of an emergency through NY ALERT—a cell phone/email/text messaging system. All New York State University campuses will have this system within the near future.

8. SUNY—Oneonta will soon have in place a video and card access system for all campus buildings.

9. SUNY—Oneonta has bought and installed a sophisticated key system for all buildings. The keys cannot be duplicated.

10. The school gives its officers extensive training through a variety of courses including Active Shooter Course and Patrol Officers Course.

11. SUNY—Oneonta has hired a full-time Emergency Management Coordinator.

12. The school is linked to major criminal data bases in Albany.

13. The school regularly reviews it crime prevention security analysis for all campus buildings.

14. The University Police Department has an ambulance on hand, on campus.

15. It is a state law that university police departments on state affiliated schools must have a Memorandum of Understanding with the state police on immediate emergency response responsibilities and actions. SUNY-Oneonta has such a memorandum and maintains close ties with the New York State Police and the city of Oneonta Police Department.

16. Students are given a full security briefing as part of their campus orientation.

17. Each staff and faculty member has at her or his desk a bright orange Crisis Management folder for immediate and easy reference. The folder contains phone numbers and contacts. The subjects covered are:

a. Emergency Responses—Shelter in Place, Notification, and Building Evacuation.

b. To Report an Emergency on Campus—Bomb Threat, Fire, Accident or Medical Emergency.

c. Threat of Physical Harm from a Person or Persons—Threat by Email, Text Message, Phone, or Note—Threatening or Aggressive Behavior, and Policies and Procedures.

d. Student Emergencies—Disturbed or Disturbing Emotional Behavior, Serious Illness or Injury, Threatening or Irrational Behavior, Crime in Progress or has been Committed, and Sexual Assault.

e. Non-Emergency Student Problems—Disturbed or Disturbing Emotional Behavior, Illness or Injury, and Learning, Psychological, or Physical Disability.

In the final analysis, however, the most sophisticated security system is only as good as the people in charge, the best psychological counseling is only as good as the individuals doing the testing, the best contingency or emergency plans are only as good as the people who implement them.

CONCLUSION: None of us sitting before you has the answer—there is no one answer to these horrific crimes. But it is in forums such as this one at William and Mary that we can begin to find ways to make our campus and school grounds safer. For that reason I want to express my deep and sincere gratitude and thanks to the law school and library of the College of William & Mary, and specifically to you Director Heller for sponsoring this event. And my sincere thanks to the other members of this panel for taking their valuable time to address this serious problem.

We are sitting on the campus of Thomas Jefferson’s college. He drafted one of the greatest documents in history—The Declaration of Independence. That document contains these words, “We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable Rights that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness…” Thomas Jefferson, a great American, a founding father, a native Virginian, and graduate of the College of William & Mary, put the right to life at the forefront of thoughts and words, the right to life is an unalienable right, a right that came before the Constitution, a right that came before the Bill of Rights.

We must hold people in positions of authority responsible, accountable, and liable for their actions—until we do, our unalienable right to life will not be guaranteed. We must begin to take control of this problem. With those words I thank you and I close.

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