Las Vegas Sun

October 25, 2014

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Panel hears gripes about university police treatment of blacks

CARSON CITY - Officials at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas promised Monday to cooperate in efforts to resolve complaints that blacks and other minorities have been unfairly targeted by campus police.

A legislative study panel on education also was told that similar problems could exist on some other Nevada college campuses - but nothing is documented due to a failure to provide mandatory, detailed reports on such complaints.

The committee heard several accounts of police harassing minority students and UNLV visitors - including a black high school principal and comedian and civil rights activist Dick Gregory.

The legislative hearing followed a rally last week by hundreds of UNLV students who demanded changes in the school's police department, an independent review board and more access to department records.

Rick Bennett, director of government relations for UNLV, told the lawmakers that UNLV president Carol Harter has met with student representatives and is open to recommendations for improvements.

"I give you my guarantee this will be resolved," Bennett said.

The lawmakers got a similar promise from Steve Sisolak of Las Vegas, a University and Community College System of Nevada regent.

UNLV Police Chief David Hollenbeck also has said that he's open to student suggestions, although he questioned whether an independent oversight committee is allowed under state law.

Assemblyman Wendell Williams, D-Las Vegas, chairman of the lawmaker's education study panel, said there are no state laws prohibiting such a committee.

Williams authored a law requiring university campuses to report police actions and allegations of misconduct to lawmakers. But he said the university failed to follow that law from 1995 to 1999 and only recently submitted what turned out to be incomplete reports.

Hollenbeck responded that the problem stemmed in part from confusion over the reporting requirements imposed by the 1993 law.

Witnesses at Monday's hearing included Leroy Hudson, a black student who said he was arrested last spring while jogging by UNLV officers who swore at him, called him a "nigger," and roughed him up.

Hudson said he had done nothing wrong - and still must deal with pending criminal charges in the case.

Other witnesses included Ronan Matthew, principal of Cheyenne High School in Las Vegas, who said he was sworn at, thrown into a police car, handcuffed and searched by an officer while at UNLV for a 1995 concert.

Matthew said he reported the incident to Hollenbeck and "that was the last I ever heardof the circumstance."

The committee also heard from a promoter of a UNLV comedy show aimed at fostering racial harmony that security was excessive and people arriving for the event were being frisked - including Gregory, who officers didn't recognize as the show's headliner.

Gary Peck of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada told the lawmakers that there have been similar problems at other Nevada college campuses, but UNLV seems to be the worst.

Peck said it's apparent that "racial profiling" was a factor in the UNLV incidents, but at first there was an apparent unwillingness or inability on the part of UNLV administrators to deal with the concerns.

"When you have Dick Gregory ... frisked by campus police, when you have high school principals thrown against cars and handcuffed and frisked, you have a problem," he added.

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