ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – An attorney for two Native American brothers pulled from a Colorado State University tour earlier this year has demanded the school make policy changes, saying Thursday that campus officers violated the teens’ constitutional rights by patting them down without any suspicion of a crime.
A letter from American Civil Liberties Union attorney Sarah Hinger calls for the university to revisit its campus police policies and training to avoid another situation like the April 30 encounter, which resulted in the teens being “humiliated, scared, and literally marginalized.”
Police video shows two officers stopping Thomas Kanewakeron Gray and Lloyd Skanahwati Gray — who were then 19 and 17, respectively — during a group admissions tour and checking their pockets. The brothers from New Mexico had called the school their top choice.
Police said a mother on the tour had called 911, saying she was worried because the Grays were “real quiet” and wore dark clothing.
“My boys were publicly humiliated and told that their looks alone make them suspicious characters,” mother Lorraine Kahneratokwa Gray said in a statement. “We are all disappointed, not only with CSU’s meagre response, but also with their false promises to right this wrong.”
A university spokesman said in an email that the school was consulting with Native American students and faculty to make the campus in Fort Collins more welcoming and that campus police are required to complete anti-bias training.
The ACLU wants the university’s president to order additional training and a review of policies dictating how officers and dispatchers respond to “bias based” reports on campus.
The Gray brothers’ encounter with officers ignited shock and outrage nationwide, as one of numerous examples of racial profiling to make headlines this year.
A Smith College employee, for example, called the police last month on a black student at the all-women’s school in Massachusetts because she appeared “out of place.” The school president announced hiring an outside investigator and ordered every employee to undergo mandatory anti-bias training.
Meanwhile, Colorado State University has taken only “small steps” after promises to change protocols for campus tours, the ACLU said.
The school said it would refund the money that the teens spent on travel and that it has taken steps to prevent a similar situation from happening again, including requiring tour participants to wear buttons and guides to have a list of names of those in the group.
University President Tony Frank has decried the incident, saying the brothers “wound up frightened and humiliated because another campus visitor was concerned about their clothes and overall demeanour — which appears to have simply been shyness.”
Hinger told The Associated Press in an interview that the ACLU is not taking “any avenues off the table” — including possible legal action — should the university not follow through on its requests.
“Although they were never suspected of a crime, the Gray brothers were detained and searched by CSU police officers,” Hinger’s letter said. “In addition to violating their constitutional rights, this experience left the brothers humiliated, frightened, and with an understanding that they were unwelcome on the CSU campus.”
Police have not identified the 911 caller, except to say she was a white, 45-year-old mother of another prospective student on the tour. In the call, she guessed the teens were Hispanic.
She said their clothing had “weird symbolism or wording,” which turned out to represent metal bands.
She also said they were disinterested and evasive, adding that they wouldn’t provide their names when asked. The older brother said he had approached the tour guide during a stop in the library to introduce himself and his brother after the two had gotten lost on campus and arrived late.
The brothers, both Mohawk, are originally from upstate New York and graduated high school from Santa Fe Indian School in New Mexico.
This story has been corrected to show that the ACLU letter was sent Thursday.