Wednesday, April 24, 2024

W&M Police: Racial bias, excessive force complaints

William and Mary Police say a man was robbed early Tuesday on campus. (William & Mary Police)
(WYDaily file/Courtesy of William & Mary Police)

The William & Mary Police Department is just one of the law enforcement agencies in the Historic Triangle to have complaints of racial profiling and excessive force in the past five years.

The department had two complaints of racial bias and two complaints of excessive force in the past five years.

Several law enforcement agencies in the Historic Triangle also have complaints of racial profiling or excessive force.

After the Minneapolis death of George Floyd, a black man who died during an arrest when a white police officer pressed a knee into his neck, Black Lives Matter groups and other activists have called for more transparency in the form of citizen review boards and defunding the police.

WYDaily filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the university about the number of complaints of excessive force, racial profiling and police brutality against officers in the last five years as well as the number of minorities in the department.

“We are not able to identify existing records that directly provide all of the information that you request below,” Lillian Stevens, FOIA officer for the college, wrote in an email Thursday. “Pursuant to VA Code 2.2 – 3704(D), which provides that the institution is not required to create records, and in an effort to address your inquiry as quickly as possible, we will be happy to provide a summary of the information requested and answers to your questions by the end of this week.”

Suzanne Clavet, spokeswoman for the college, wrote in an email Thursday all use of force incidents are automatically reviewed by the patrol lieutenant.

“Should any complaint be received by the department, those are investigated through the internal affairs process,” she wrote.

Clavet said internal investigations are done by a member of the department’s command staff and William & Mary administration is notified about any complaint.

“Any substantiated complaints would result in disciplinary action ranging from re-training/training and a verbal warning up to and including suspension or termination,” she added.

Clavet sent WYDaily a chart of the William & Mary Police Department’s employees with the number of authorized of employees, active employees as well as rank and gender. While the chart includes those who are considered minorities, the chart does not break down the race and ethnicity of those employees, specifically officers.

Based on the chart below, the police department has 10 officers who are considered “minorities.”

The number of employees at the William & Mary Police Department. (WYDaily/ Screenshot courtesy of the College of William and Mary)
The number of employees at the William & Mary Police Department. (WYDaily/ Screenshot courtesy of the College of William and Mary)

Clavet sent an email Tuesday breaking down the minorities but did not specify the person’s position or rank: 5 black males, 3 Hispanic males, 1 Asian male and 1 Hispanic female.

The complaints

Clavet said the police department received two complaints of racial bias and two complaints of excessive force in the past five years.

“In March 2017, a WMPD officer on foot talked with a group of students chalking on a campus building and asking them to relocate,” she wrote in an email. “The department received a complaint of racial profiling related to this incident saying that WMPD intervened because of the race of those chalking and provided inaccurate information to those involved.”

The department’s internal affairs found no evidence of racial profiling but found the officer was unable to “specifically identify the source of prohibition” and what was covered with “100% accuracy,” Clavet wrote.

“Officers were correct regarding no chalking on buildings, but needed to clarify chalking sidewalks was permitted under university policy,” Clavet added. ”The Chief made a public statement that we could have handled the situation more effectively with better interpersonal communications and specific clarification of reference points.”

In June 2018, the police department responded to a person having a seizure and a complaint was filed, alleging excessive force was used in helping and restraining the person.

Clavet said the department met with first responders who said the officer’s actions were appropriate and the department’s internal affairs review board found the officer’s actions “reasonable, lawful and within policy.”

The last complaint was in January when a student was stopped and questioned about bike theft — the department received a complaint of both racial profiling and excessive force by grabbing the student’s jacket and physically stopping them, Clavet wrote.

“WMPD included an external review by the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office in the process,” Clavet wrote. “They agreed with a finding that the brief stop and very limited force used were reasonable, lawful and within policy.”

William & Mary Police

William & Mary Police Chief Deb Cheesebro sent a letter to the students on June 2 about the recent death of Floyd and the Black Lives Matter protests.

She said officers are expected to treat everyone with respect and the department does not approve of excessive force.

“I am always in pursuit of better policing,” she wrote. “I think we can continue that process together.”

The next day, the police department posted information about its policies on Facebook.

The 16-page post included information about defining deadly, less lethal, non-deadly and reasonably necessary force and serious physical injury.

The post also included the department’s mission statement.


Julia Marsigliano
Julia Marsigliano
Julia Marsigliano is a multimedia reporter for WYDaily. She covers everything on the Peninsula from local government and law enforcement agencies to family-run businesses and weather updates. Before WYDaily, she covered Hampton and Newport News for WYDaily’s sister publication, HNNDaily before both publications merged in December 2018. Julia was born in Tokyo, Japan and moved to Long Island, New York in 2001. A true New Yorker, she loves pizza, bagels and good Chinese food. Send comments, tips and other tidbits to You can follow her on Twitter at @jmarsigliano

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