The arrest of a politically active student on campus has prompted accusations of “aggression and unprofessionalism” shown by police.
Mike Tracey, vice president of the College Democrats and junior political science major, was arrested on Feb. 18 after Ann Coulter’s lecture in Kendall Hall. The College has defended the police response, saying an appropriate amount of force was used.
Students, some of whom were involved in protesting the Coulter lecture, met Friday and Sunday nights to show support for Tracey and to discuss the possiblity of protesting the Campus Police Forum scheduled for March 5.
Tracey has hired legal counsel William H. Buckman and is contemplating filing a civil rights complaint about the treatment he received during the arrest. According to Tracey, his first priority is to have his disorderly conduct charge dropped prior to his March 25 Ewing court hearing.
“There’s no basis for the charges,” Buckman said.
Tracey was arrested by Ewing Police after he approached Coulter during her post-lecture book signing. According to Tracey, the police officers abused him verbally and physically during his arrest and later while in a holding room at the Campus Police station.
“They were just hurling insults at me, both directed at me and among each other,” he said in an interview. According to Tracey’s statement, these insults included “fucking asshole,” “shithead” and “faggot.” Tracey said various other taunts were made by officers, including one officer saying, “I bet you’re planning this for weeks,” and, “I bet you’ll be one of those guys throwing shoes at Obama.”
Matt Golden, executive director of Public Relations and Communications, said Tracey was “behaving in an unruly, and somewhat aggressive, manner.”
“(The police) were forced to restrain him,” Golden said. “He was not cooperating and therefore was arrested.”
An e-mail was sent to members of the College community by the department of Public Relations and Communications on Friday acknowledging the arrest of an individual for disorderly conduct. According to the e-mail, “a prompt and thorough review of this incident has been requested by (Campus Police) Chief John Collins.”
“People need to be patient and let the system do its job,” Collins said. “When we receive a complaint, we will investigate it.”
College President R. Barbara Gitenstein released a statement Monday.
“While I am unable to discuss the specifics of this situation, I cannot stress enough how seriously we take accusations of misconduct by any of our employees or agents,” she said. “We would strongly encourage any individual, who feels that his or her rights were violated by a College employee, to file a formal complaint.”
According to Lieutenant Gerald Jacobs of the Ewing Police Department, Tracey has not, as of press time, filed an official complaint regarding the officers’ behavior.
“There’s a process in place for him to file his complaint,” Jacobs said.
Tracey said he had intended to talk to Coulter about a question he had asked during the lecture’s Q-and-A period. Coulter, notorious for her sharp responses during Q-and-A sessions, had answered Tracey’s question with, “You can’t possibly be that stupid,” before attempting to clarify the purpose of her original statement.
Tracey was dissatisfied with her response.
“I out-and-out asked her whether she believes what she says or she’s a political satirist,” Tracey said in an interview with The Signal hours after the arrest, “and she did not answer my question.”
According to Tracey’s account of the event, he was approached by “two security officials” – one officer and one in plainclothes – who informed him he could not approach Coulter’s table without a book.
He made a second attempt to reach Coulter’s table, after which the officials “forcibly escorted” him off the stage and toward the auditorium exit, repeatedly saying, “You’re outta here,” according to Tracey.
Tracey said he didn’t expect the officers’ reaction.
Terence Grado, senior political science/philosophy major and chairman of the New Jersey State Federation of College Republicans, was on the stage when the police initially approached Tracey.
“He was told ahead of time (by College Republican representatives) that he needed a book,” Grado said. “He was told again that he couldn’t go up. He then approached the table anyway.”
As Tracey was being escorted out of the building along one of the side aisles, he doubled-back toward the middle of the auditorium to continue talking to others in as he had been doing prior to attempting to talk to Coulter.
Tracey said when he attempted to return to the people he was talking to prior to the event, officers pulled him to the ground.
“The only thing that could be seen as resisting is when the officer grabbed my coat and I moved forward,” he said, adding that moving away from someone who is grabbing you is a “natural reaction.”
In the police report, Ewing Detective Pat Holt said Tracey had “spun out” of his coat and “started running toward the seating area.”
“I (proceeded) after (Tracey) and had to tackle him to the ground in order to get him to stop,” Holt wrote. At this point, another Ewing officer came over to assist Holt, according to the report.
The police report and Tracey’s account of the event differ at this point. While the police report said Tracey “started to scream and carry on” while he “held on to one of the chairs in the seating area and would not let go,” Tracey said his arm was stuck on the bottom of a chair.
“They were just pulling on my arm,” Tracey said in an interview, “and they were like ‘Oh, come on,’ like I was just being dramatic and faking it. But, it hurt.”
According to Tracey, he was handcuffed by the officers as “one officer got on my legs and another put his knee on my head.”
“He put his body weight on his knee and was crushing my head against the carpet,” Tracey said.
When Tracey arrived for his Signal interview approximately three hours after the arrest, his wrists were red and raw where the handcuffs had been. He also had a red bruise near his left temple and some bruising on his nose. Tracey said the latter two markings were from when he was first pushed to the ground in Kendall Hall.
Tracey’s statement reads that he was then taken outside where he “again hit the ground, this time the grass,” and lost his glasses, which he said officers refused to give back to him until later.
According to Golden, Collins witnessed the event.
“He believes the minimum necessary force to restrain him was all that was used,” Golden said.
Jason Lipshutz, junior English major and Signal staff writer, who had left the lecture earlier “partially to protest and partially to get to a science lab,” witnessed Tracey’s struggle with the officers on his way back to his dorm room from the Science Complex.
“I heard some yelling, so I turned around and I saw two cops with a guy in handcuffs in between them,” Lipshutz said. “The guy was thrashing around, like kind of resisting. He was yelling really loudly and he kept saying, ‘Are you kidding me?’ Then (the police officers) slammed him on the hood of the cop car. They held him down a few seconds, and then they put him in the car.”
“If I knew I was going to have an altercation with the police,” Tracey later added, “I never would have went on stage.”
Tracey was released from custody that night and was told he would be issued a summons by Ewing Police, which he received on Sunday.
Supporters have rallied behind Tracey by chalking messages and posting flyers around campus. Tracey has also received support through Facebook and comments on his dailykos.com journal entry, which was featured on the front page of the site. The more than 990 comments the journal entry garnered have been varied in nature, ranging from those offering general support and legal advice to those condemning Tracey’s actions. A Facebook group, “Stand With Mike Tracey,” has more than 1,000 members.
During last week’s meetings in support of Tracey, more than 20 students gathered in the Brower Student Center to discuss the alleged abuse Tracey received.
“We are concerned with how the police force is interacting with us. The student body needs to foster a good relationship,” Nicole Pieri, sophomore English major, said.
During the meetings, the group suggested plans for future action, including contacting The Trentonian, petitioning the College governing bodies and making buttons to wear in a show of support for Tracey, as well as compiling a coalition statement explaining their grievances.
“I propose the idea of flooding the Campus Police forum with proposals of acquittals,” Matt Hoke, president of the International Socialist Organization (ISO), said. According to Hoke, the goal is “to get (Tracey) acquitted from his charges.”
Tracey said he was stunned by the amount of interest his situation has received.
“I couldn’t believe how (the journal article) exploded so quickly,” he said. “It’s just been overwhelming, the reaction I’ve gotten and the support I’ve gotten.”
Editor-in-Chief Joseph Hannan and News Editor Diana Bubser contributed to this report.
Allison Singer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.