The EQUITAS Legal Report* on the shootings at Virginia Tech makes a strong case that the school violated a federal law (the Clery Act) and that the school and senior school administration officials may be guilty of obstruction of justice.
The report asserts that the multi-level chain of command adopted by Virginia Tech on that terrible day may have prevented a timely warning from being issued to students, faculty, and staff. This cumbersome bureaucratic process violated both the Clery Act and the school’s own security policy. To make this point, EQUITAS quotes from VT Policy No. 5613 v.3, dated May 2002, which states, “University Relations and the University Police will make the campus community aware of crimes, which have occurred and necessitate caution on the part of students and employees, in a timely fashion and in such a way as to aid in the prevention of similar occurrences.”
Virginia Tech Police Chief Flinchum clearly had the authority to issue an alarm, but did not. He talked with school administration officials—the president and members of the policy group—and it stretches the limits of credibility to think that an alarm and a lock-down were not discussed. They would all be negligent in their duties had they not discussed these courses of actions. Virginia Tech policy lacks specifics regarding the type of information to be found in any form of timely warning, but to use that lack of specificity as an excuse for not warning the campus when two students have been murdered and bloody footprints lead away from the crime scene, is—I believe—bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo designed to cover-up poor judgments. Furthermore, EQUITAS correctly points out that the school’s failure to alert was also based on “the unsubstantiated fear of chaos supposedly witnessed during the handling of the Morva incident.” (William Morva escaped from a Blacksburg, Virginia jail in August, 2006, killing two officers. He was eventually caught on university property. Virginia Tech did take action that day, cancelling classes, and setting its own security standard just eight months before Cho’s shooting rampage—a standard that the school broke on April 16, 2007.)
The SERAPH Research Team, a group of education and law enforcement experts, supports the findings of the EQUITAS Legal Report. SERAPH contends that the school’s actions—specifically the Policy Group—may have been in violation of Virginia Criminal code 18.2-460A dealing with Obstruction of Justice. Specifically, the action of the Policy Group, and/or members of the school administration, may have obstructed the police in their investigation of the original dorm murders and the police’s response to managing the campus with a murder suspect on the loose.
Even if you believe that the first two killings could not have been prevented (I do not accept that premise), there is no doubt that the school committed one error after another as it blundered through the nearly two and a half hours between the killings at West Ambler Johnston dormitory and the slaughter at Norris Hall.
As EQUITAS puts it, “Careful scrutiny of the relevant indica contained in this (EQUITAS) Legal Report provides the reasonable and well-informed person the means to connect the dots and draw the line as to why the State of Virginia and VT both failed in securing procedural and substantive safeguards recognized by international and domestic law.” EQUITAS underscores the responsibilities that Virginia Tech and all colleges and universities have for the safety of students by citing Mullins v. Pine Manor College (1983). In that case, the court opined, “Parents, students and the general community still have a reasonable expectation, fostered in part by the colleges themselves, that reasonable care will be exercised to protect students from foreseeable harm.” Cho’s murderous rage was foreseeable, a campus-wide alert and lock-down was “reasonable care … to protect students from foreseeable harm.” Clearly, Virginia Tech violated the Clery Act and under the provisions of that Act, should be denied federal funds.
In concluding their report, EQUITAS correctly points out “the important point is that VA State as well as the Virginia Tech Board and police authorities, egregiously neglected—for a variety of reasons—to bring together and fully appreciate a range of information that could have greatly enhanced their claims of uncovering and preventing the attacker’s plan …”
The EQUITAS report ends with the insightful assertion that “Securing the Truth and ensuring Restorative Justice can only be attained through an independent and impartial judicial hearing whose task of exposing the crux of the matter would contribute in resolving the question as to why VA state and VT egregiously neglected to implement and administer valid procedural and substantive safeguards and at securing the broad Va. Tech and Blacksburg community against Level II type incidents involving acts of terrorism and mass causalities.”
Having read the excellent EQUITAS Legal Report and analyses done by other law enforcement, legal, and educational officials, I have no choice but to agree with them—there is ample evidence that Virginia Tech violated state and federal laws on April 16, 2007. The evidence—both factual and circumstantial—is strong enough that the threshold for a court trial has been met. You can find full text of the EQUITAS Legal Report by going to http://www.eqrolc.ca/.
*EQUITAS was founded in 2002 and is based in Canada. Daniel Couture is the founder of EQUITAS. Mr. Couture’s sister, Professor Jocelyne Couture-Nowak, was a French professor and was murdered at Virginia Tech on April 16, 2007. EQUITAS is a strategic rule-of-law think tank operating in conformity with the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders adopted by the United Nations General Assembly Resolution A/RES/53/144.