Books, Bullets and Guns

TSU was failing in campus safety long before Ashley Sloan was gunned down

As a teenager, Sloan battled obesity and sometimes felt that she didn't measure up to her peers. But she was active in her church and at Dallas's W.W. Samuell High School, where she played volleyball, softball and was a varsity cheerleader.

And there was work as well. Sloan found a job at a supermarket in her Pleasant Grove neighborhood. A co-worker, Brit'ni Samples, is now a sophomore at TSU.

"She was easy to talk to," Samples remembers. "You could tell her something and she could relate to it really well...I never knew her to get into any kind of trouble."

Three students (from left: Oliver Brown, Justin Jordan 
and William Hudson) have compiled documents that 
challenge TSU's competency in keeping the campus 
Three students (from left: Oliver Brown, Justin Jordan and William Hudson) have compiled documents that challenge TSU's competency in keeping the campus safe.

And there was plenty of potential trouble waiting in Pleasant Grove. Samples recalls walking to work with Sloan, having to wade through packs of leering men and even past guys running from the cops. They heard gunshots. "I thought, growing up in Pleasant Grove, there's not much more [violence] that I could see, but obviously there is because it never hit too close to home."

While some Third Ward neighborhoods around TSU can resemble those Dallas areas, it seemed that Sloan's transition to the university would take her away from those danger zones.

The Greystone Apartments complex where she lived is the oldest of three student housing units owned by TSU and operated through leases with management companies. They are touted as highly secure living quarters, with surveillance cameras in common areas and other safety features. Some units are even equipped with "panic buttons" for use during emergencies.

Foremost are the rules restricting access: The staff is to screen visitors, and only those accompanied by or personally authorized by student residents are to be allowed in.

However, several students interviewed say the safety talk was only hype, that security was largely a sham in these TSU-owned quarters.

Consider four freshman girls who moved into Greystone at the end of August: Yolanda Pollard, Brittini Robinson, Amber Martin and Brittany Morgan. "They told me in the beginning that there would be on-campus security and all that good stuff, but the next thing you know there are people breaking into cars and there are shootings," Robinson remembers. That was just the beginning.

Only a few weeks into the semester, Martin says, a stranger raped her in her own apartment (Martin is a pseudonym to protect her privacy). She says management's disregard for students was evident when she returned from talking to police to get some clothes so she could stay elsewhere.

"...The landlord was yelling at me, like, 'Why did you go to the police and why didn't you come to me?' " Martin says. " 'Don't ever go to the police when something happens to you over here.' " She identified the woman as manager LaTreva Herndon, who referred questions to the president of Century Campus Housing, Jim Short.

He disputes Martin's story and says company records show that the managers became aware of the incident only because police had arrived. "When LaTreva got there, the victim was not cooperating with the police, and LaTreva encouraged her to do so," says Short.

Martin left TSU and returned home to Amarillo. "It was becoming like any other neighborhood where it's not a school," says Robinson, who grew up on the same street as Ashley Sloan. "Dudes were selling drugs out of the apartment. Fights. You hear gunshots. It was just too much going on for it to be a campus."

After Sloan was shot, Robinson withdrew from TSU and went back to Dallas, where she enrolled in a community college. "I shouldn't be worried to the point where I'm trying to come home, because really I'm trying to get away from home," Robinson says. "If I have to deal with this, I might as well stay at home."

Robinson contends that drug dealing is widespread and that firearms are commonplace in the TSU housing.

Martin says her experiences are similar. "My next-door neighbor -- every guy in that apartment had a gun...You could go in the apartment and they were lying on the counter, lying on the couch, whatever." She continues, "They said that they needed them, I guess to protect themselves."

Samples, Sloan's friend from Dallas, believes police had ample warning of the dangers. At the beginning of the fall semester, someone shot up the apartment below hers in the University Courtyard student housing. She says she watched from her window as they left the apartment and shot around outside.

The administration responded by closing one of the apartment gates, she says, although TSU never explained what had happened.

"They don't want to tell us because they don't want to look bad, but that's not helping us," she says.

Robinson drafted her letter to the Greystone leasing office summarizing what she called dangerous conditions, although company representatives told her that her concerns weren't sufficient to justify her breaking her lease for the year. They've notified her that she still owes them more than $1,400.

And when it comes to contract disputes involving security, Robinson is hardly alone. The university and the housing operators can't even agree on who has the key responsibilities to protect student residents.

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