Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association and the Law Enforcement Labor Services has taken the unusual (if not unprecedented) step of asking the University of Minnesota to investigate a student for her call to make the lives of campus police a living “hell.” In a video conference captured on video, student Lauren Meyers is caught making the statements in her capacity as Chief Financial Officer of the Minnesota Student Association Executive Board.
The videoconference followed a decision from student leaders to send a letter to University of Minnesota administration demanding the resignation of the Chief of Police of the University of Minnesota Police Department (UMPD). The letter threatens “direct actions” if “our demands are not met.”
UofM Ranking At-Large Representative Andy Knuppel: You say disrupt UMPD. What exactly do you mean by that?”
Meyers: “Make their lives hell.”
Meyers: “Annoy the shit out of them”
Meyers: “I’m saying, what are they over? I don’t know Amy do you know? Morgan, you mentioned stuff with UMPD. [pause] Like, use up their resources. Make their officers show up to something. Um.”
The police organizations are alleging the possible violation of state law. Specifically, they cite Section 609.78 (shown below) on interfering with the emergency telephone calls and communications of police departments. That provision includes such crimes as “plac[ing] an emergency call and reports a fictitious emergency with the intent of prompting an emergency response by law enforcement, fire, or emergency medical services personnel.”
Moreover, the call to tie up campus police could result in harm to other students who may find the police unable to respond quickly to real threats or crimes on campus.
The university rules of conduct for students prohibits:
Subd. 8. Assists or Abets. A student or student group assists or abets prohibited conduct when the student or student group: (a) helps any other person engage in misconduct as defined by the Student Conduct Code; and (b) intends the misconduct to occur or knows that their actions are significantly likely to help the other person to engage in the misconduct.
As will come as no surprise to many on this blog, I would oppose any criminal charge for Meyers who is engaged in political speech. She did not actually interfere with police calls or engage in this criminal conduct directly. I believe that the First Amendment should protect such speech, even though it is reckless and offensive.
Furthermore, I would oppose any expulsion or suspension for Meyers for such comments. I do believe however that the university as an obligation to respond, including the issuing of a formal reprimand since Meyers was calling for harassment in her official capacity. Her call could endanger both officers and other students. Such a transgression warrant a response but also another chance for Meyers to show greater maturity and judgment. College students often make stupid mistakes, particularly when caught up in the passions of protests or social causes. They can learn from such mistakes and universities should seek to work with such students.
My greatest concern is the different treatment afforded students based on the content of such statements. I do not expect Meyers to be expelled. Yet, there is a need for a clear and formal response from the university on this dangerous declaration. Frankly, I am not sure that the university would be as circumspect in cases where such reckless language is directed at others groups or causes. The key protection for free speech is a bright line of protection that is clear and most importantly consistent.
The university issued a fairly tepid statement that, while noting that Meyers could be calling for criminal acts, did not include any indication of a reprimand or other formal sanction:
“The University respects the autonomy of the Minnesota Student Association as an independent governance organization for undergraduate students, including the autonomy of its membership to speak freely. However, in this instance, the University unequivocally disagrees with the ideas expressed about disrupting UMPD’s daily work. These ideas are illegal and would directly conflict with ongoing efforts to keep our campus community safe.”
This is a tad more than a “disagreement” when a student leader is advocating criminal acts as a way to harass campus police and make it difficult for them to respond to calls. At a minimum, the school should establish that calling for such harassment is a violation of the student code and that such conduct will not be tolerated in any student, including Meyers. My greatest concern is that, without such clarity from the university, some students might actually try to interfere with the police and trigger a criminal investigation. It is not the “ideas” that are illegal but actions that should be fully explained by the university as notice to this and other students.
Here is the underlying criminal provision:
609.78 EMERGENCY TELEPHONE CALLS AND COMMUNICATIONS.
Subdivision 1.Misdemeanor offenses.
Whoever does the following is guilty of a misdemeanor:
(4) makes a call for emergency police, fire, medical, or ambulance service, knowing that no police, fire, or medical emergency exists;
(6) makes or initiates an emergency call, knowing that no emergency exists, and with the intent to disrupt, interfere with, or reduce the provision of emergency services or the emergency call center’s resources, remains silent, or makes abusive or harassing statements to the call recipient.
Subd. 2.Gross misdemeanor offenses.
Whoever does the following is guilty of a gross misdemeanor:
(1) intentionally interrupts, disrupts, impedes, or interferes with an emergency call or who intentionally prevents or hinders another from placing an emergency call, and whose conduct does not result in a violation of section 609.498;
(2) places an emergency call and reports a fictitious emergency with the intent of prompting an emergency response by law enforcement, fire, or emergency medical services personnel; or
(3) violates subdivision 1, clause (6), after having been previously convicted or adjudicated delinquent for violating that clause.
Subd. 2a.Felony offense; reporting fictitious emergency resulting in serious injury.
Whoever violates subdivision 2, clause (2), is guilty of a felony and may be sentenced to imprisonment for not more than ten years or to payment of a fine of not more than $20,000, or both, if the call triggers an emergency response and, as a result of the response, someone suffers great bodily harm or death.
Subd. 2b.Other felony offenses.
Whoever does the following is guilty of a felony and may be sentenced to imprisonment for not more than five years or to payment of a fine of not more than $10,000, or both:
(1) violates subdivision 1, clause (6), after having been previously convicted or adjudicated delinquent for violating that clause on more than one occasion; or
(2) intentionally uses multiple communications devices or electronic means to block, interfere with, overload, or otherwise prevent the emergency call center’s system from functioning properly, and these actions make the system unavailable to someone needing emergency assistance.