Books, Bullets and Guns

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

The TSU student calling the hot line complained that students at Greystone used guns to threaten one of his friends. John Perry, the public relations director for the Marsai Alert, took the call.

Perry typed a report and sent it by certified mail for hand delivery to the police chief and the president. "They certainly didn't give us the impression that we were impinging on their territory," Perry says. "I assumed that from that point they would have heightened security -- they would find some way to get the word out that there were guns on campus. That's the last I'd heard of it until the incident happened with Ashley Sloan."

Chief Young says he requested that Perry ask his informant for more information. "If you're really scared, you'll give me all the information you can so I can put him in jail," he says. "This is not enough for probable cause. That's the kind of position they put us in."

Ashley Sloan's mother talked her out of military 
service, fearing it would be too dangerous.
Daniel Kramer
Ashley Sloan's mother talked her out of military service, fearing it would be too dangerous.
Chief Young says reported violence has decreased 
steadily in recent years.
Chief Young says reported violence has decreased steadily in recent years.

What Young didn't say is that, according to other TSU documents, his department has been working with HPD tactical and gang units in undercover operations that began last fall. They are said to be targeting drug trafficking and illegal weapons.

Cordell Lindsey says he took a more public approach as TSU chief from 1989 to 2001. He says he had his officers regularly conduct surprise dorm sweeps for guns and drugs. "We would knock on doors and ask permission to look around," he says. In some cases, search warrants would be obtained, he adds.

It's too soon to determine whether undercover operations will be more effective than Lindsey's sweeps. What is certain is that Lindsey acknowledges the problems with guns and violence in a much more public way. But Lindsey, who won $350,000 in a lawsuit that accused administrators of firing him to halt an investigation, was known as a whistle-blower. Young isn't.

Any shroud of silence regarding campus safety hardly stops with the administration. Students themselves seem reluctant to come forward.

"A lot of people don't want to deal with the authorities, for fear of retaliation," says Perry of the Marsai Alert hot line. "Generally, when you talk to the authorities, you have to give your name. These people are dangerous out here. If they find out that you have ratted them out, they are going to come get you."

But a lot of the refusal to cooperate comes from a 'hood solidarity that's ingrained in hip-hop culture. Nothing is worse than being a rat. HPD investigator Abbondandolo discovered as much when he was investigating Sloan's slaying. "There were a lot of people that were there that saw what happened. But there were virtually no Crime Stopper tips -- no calls from people that wanted to help out."

It's a cultural shift. "It used to be that you had an Ashley Sloan-type case, where you had an innocent victim in a violent case, where even the thugs would have some sense of right and wrong. We don't get those calls anymore. People don't want to cooperate."

However, freshman Leslie Williams says she stepped forward to report the bizarre actions of a man at Tierwester Oaks -- he was telling others he had killed Sloan -- and wound up being arrested by TSU police after commenting to the news media about the incident. Officers seemed more intent on silencing her than on upgrading student safety, she says (see "Quelling Comments -- Not Crime?").

But even after Sloan's killing, most TSU students hardly appear to be that concerned about potential dangers.

That was evident on a warm January afternoon, when the Student Government Association hosted a general forum in "The Pit," the sunken courtyard outside the student center.

Organizers set up a podium, microphone and loudspeakers so students could approach to air their concerns, comments or just about anything else. Coupled with the DJ on hand to spin tracks, it was a two-hour block-party approach to student government.

A handful of the 200 or 300 students used the podium to give shout-outs to fraternities and sororities and the basketball team.

William Hudson, Oliver Brown and freshman class president Justin Jordan were the only voices in the wilderness, it seemed.

After Sloan's death, the three say, they searched the campus for dark areas and potential danger spots. In the back of an old dump truck at the General Service Building they found scores of discarded payroll documents that included the social security and IRA account numbers of every TSU employee, they say.

Their outrage at the mishandling of such private information set them on a mission to take down the university, or at least its current leadership. As a part of that campaign to "impeach" the TSU president, the trio compiled a "Special Crisis Report," a booklet of documents to support their claims.

They say they obtained some of the sensitive documents through their own research and with the help of an administration source. The section on security includes the Brittini Robinson letter complaining of drugs and firearms on campus as well as correspondence detailing the disputes between TSU and its housing management firms.

However, the recent upgrades in security and police patrols appear to have calmed many students' earlier worries.

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