Students deem UCPD marijuana search questionable

By Bennett Cognato, Staff Writer

Following a Nov. 11 encounter with UConn Police, students Kevin Oliveira and Sam Jensen allege two officers engaged in racial profiling and illegal search procedure over what turned out to be a few breadcrumbs.

Oliveira and Jensen recorded the audio of a majority of their encounter with the UCPD, and posted a transcribed YouTube video of the events through the UConn Students for Sensible Drug Policy account, titled “UConn Police Illegal Search and Racial Profiling.” Oliveira linked to the video in a post to the “UConn Buy/Sell” Facebook page with the Twitter hash tags “#DearSusan” and “#InstitutionalChange”, receiving almost 500 “likes” and over 150 comments of various nature.

Oliveira, a senior computer science major and president of the UConn Students for Sensible Drug Policy during the 2013-2014 academic year, said officers approached him and Jensen in their vehicle and first asked outright if they were “smoking pot.” Oliveira said one of the officers repeatedly tried convincing the two students to incriminate themselves, and when they refused to consent to searches, the officer asked where they had learned to say such a thing.

“There were a lot of things that seemed fishy,” Oliveira said.

After the officer asked Oliveira and Jensen if they “smoke weed” three times and if there was anything in the car he “needed to be worried about” and to “take a look” twice, the officer questioned whether a small unidentified piece of material in the back seat was a “piece of weed or not” and ordered the two to step out of the car. After refusing to consent to searches multiple times, the officers cited the plain view doctrine and proceeded to search the car, as well as Jensen’s backpack.

Oliveira said the material in question inside the vehicle later turned out to be breadcrumbs.

“They were pretty much just making things up to try and get in my car and search it,” Oliveira said.

In the audio recording, one of the officers repeatedly asked if the two had marijuana in the car, and eventually said, “Now’s your chance to come clean. If you have it, you have it, it’s not a big deal.”

Contrary to the officer’s assertion that possession of marijuana wouldn’t be a “big deal,” a Daily Campus article published in early October noted that UCPD officers issued over 30 drug charges within the first month of this fall semester alone, a sharp increase from the same time last year.

During their pat down by police, Oliveira said he felt his search was significantly more intrusive, and that the officers’ conduct was all-around inappropriate.

“Sam was just literally patted down – they touched his pockets twice, asked if it was his phone and his money and he said yes,” Oliveira said. “For me, the officer told me not to ‘bullshit’ him, asked if I had any weapons, kicked my feet apart, interlocked my hands above my head and patted me down much harder. The only appreciable difference between the two of us is that Sam is white and I’m Latino.”

The two students are in the process of filing a complaint with the police department, Oliveira said, but allege it took about two and a half weeks from the initial incident for the UCPD to release the incident report to them. The two hope to continue collaboration with the UConn American Civil Liberties Union and meet with the UCPD Police Chief, Barbara O’Connor, to suggest changes in procedure.

Oliveira said he hopes future correspondence with the ACLU and UCPD will lead to a reprioritization of police procedure to decrease efforts to pursue drug crimes. Such action was recently made by Brooklyn, New York District Attorney Kenneth Thompson, who announced in July that his district would no longer pursue minor marijuana cases in order to redirect resources to higher priorities.

“Drug crimes are what they’re targeting here when we have way more significant and harmful crimes happening on campus,” Oliveira said.

In a comment to the Daily Campus, UConn Deputy Chief of Police Hans Rhynhart said the department has been aware of the audio track since its existence, but the department currently considers the incident closed as no further information or complaint has been filed at this time.

“It appears the audio track is incomplete and does not capture the entire interaction between the occupants of the vehicle and the police officers,” Rhynhart said. “At this time, unless further information is received and/or a complaint is received regarding the interaction, we consider the incident closed.”

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