Winthrop police department faces backlash

WUPD apprehends suspicious and ‘aggressive’ man following social media backlash 

Zuri Anderson

andersonz@mytjnow.com

Winthrop Police sent out an email to students Thursday morning about a black male with a thick accent approaching women on campus in response to social media outrage. Students took to Twitter Wednesday and Thursday criticizing WUPD’s response to the incident.

Police Chief Frank Zebedis said that one call was made to Winthrop about two incidents that occurred on April 10 and 11, where Junior P. Nkyesiga, the suspicious man, approached female students ‘aggressively’ near Dacus Library. Nkyesiga made remarks at the women that made them uncomfortable. He was also reported to be around Dinkins Hall and Byrnes Auditorium areas.

Senior Catherine Lowe and junior Caitlan Walzer said they made calls to Winthrop Police at 1:12 p.m. and 1:14 p.m., respectively, on April 11 despite Winthrop Police’s claim that there was only one call. Other women also came forward about calling WUPD that Tuesday and Wednesday.

“That information on the number of calls received is not accurate. Campus Police received one call on April 11 about the described person approaching a female student outside of Dacus library. There was a time delay in the incident and the contact made with Campus Police and by the time an officer arrived on scene, the subject was gone,” Zebedis said in his campus-wide email.

Senior Catherine Lowe tweeted at Winthrop’s Twitter account Wednesday asking why there was not a WU alert following the initial phone calls to WUPD.

“I think the way Winthrop police handled this is absolutely horrible, and I am outraged. Is the school going to wait until there’s an actual sexual assault before they reach out to the entire student body about it? I think that’s absolutely ridiculous,” Lowe said.

Lowe said that she was not one of the women Nkyesiga approached, but a few of her close friends were approached. She said she knew five women who called WUPD about Nkyesiga.

Walzer, however, said she was one of the women approached by Nkyesgia. She said she was approached on Monday, but called WUPD Tuesday afternoon after hearing other women talk about being approached by a guy with the same description.

“When I called, the police officer that answered the phone was very rude and wouldn’t allow me to give my statement or description of the man. Instead, she cut me off and assumed I was already talking about that specific guy because she told me she had already gotten three phone calls about Nykesiga,” Walzer said.

Sgt. Yearta called Walzer back Thursday afternoon to follow up on her first call. In this call, Walzer said she was allowed to give her full description and statement.

“He actually told me during that call that I was the only one to have given them that much description about the suspect,” Walzer said.

Walzer said she feels that her finally being allowed to give her full statement helped lead WUPD into apprehending the subject later that day.

“If I had been able to give a full description about the suspect when I first made a phone call on Tuesday, then I feel that WUPD would have been able to apprehended the suspect much sooner, but I wasn’t allowed the opportunity to do so during my first call,” Walzer said.

Around 1:30 pm on Thursday, Winthrop Police said they made contact with Nkyesiga after a student called WUPD with identification details. Nkyesiga, 23, admitted to the accusations upon confrontation. Since Nkyesiga did not commit any criminal activity, he was placed under indefinite trespass from campus and will be arrested if he returns. There is more information on him on Winthrop’s trespass

database.

Students took to Twitter Wednesday afternoon and Thursday following WUPD’s campus-wide email, criticizing them for having more concern about parking rather than student safety. Other tweets included commentary on the pizza man robbery earlier this semester and possible victimization.

In a public tweet, mass communication major Ann Marie Langrehr said she felt no safer by Zebedis’ email.

“It’s sad that it had to take a ‘social media discussion’ for them to finally send out information. And there STILL hasn’t been a Winthrop Alert about the man stalking girls on campus,” Langrehr tweeted. “Your jobs should be focusing on catching this guy and getting him away from our campus. Not passive aggressively attacking the people who are actually trying to do something about it.”

Zebedis said that Winthrop Police could not send out a campus alert since there was no criminal activity, citing the Clery law, and also said that the information about the man was too vague. However, he said that he did feel that an email notification was appropriate.

“If the same effort that was put into discussing this incident on social media would have been put into calling Campus Police as the encounter was taking place, we could have apprehended this person and identified him. But not calling or delaying 15 minutes before calling doesn’t help us identify the person or solve the problem. Everyone on this campus has a responsibility in keeping the community safe. So ‘if they see Something, say something.’ Please don’t wait,” Zebedis said.

Zebedis sent a different email to the faculty and staff of Winthrop later Thursday, leaving out mentions of the social media discussion.

“Campus Police has received reports of a suspicious black male with a thick accent approaching females and trying to engage in conversation. The subject has only attempted to engage in conversation and some of the conversation has been invasive making the females uncomfortable. This subject was seen on the sidewalk on Oakland Avenue in front of Dacus Library and Dinkins Hall on the afternoon of April 10 and April 11. At this time there is no other information on the subject,” Zebedis stated in his email.

This incident started two weeks after the Campus Climate Survey opened, a voluntary survey that assesses Winthrop on student safety and awareness of support services. Some Winthrop students said they now question the student safety on campus and will doubt the results of the survey when released.

Senior Timon Ruth is working on an escort service for campus in response to Nkyesiga’s presence. The mission of the service is to look out for suspicious people like Nkyesiga on campus. This is also in response to past incidents WUPD communicated through email.

“It’s happening too much for the students not to try and be proactive themselves. I’ve been hoping to change the climate of this campus before I graduate,” Ruth said.

Ruth felt that WUPD did not give students any reassurance about the issue with the email they sent Thursday morning.

“I felt it wasn’t handled as best it could have been handled better. It kind of came off as ‘okay, we get this. Y’all need to stop complaining.’ But I never felt like they weren’t doing anything, I just thought they could’ve done more,” Ruth said.

Ruth said he met with Dean Anthony Davis about introducing a more formal write-up regarding the service before he graduates in May. Ruth said he treated his escort service as an aid to WUPD by also developing a means to seize the suspect when he is caught.

“It’s not a sleight towards them. I understand that there is so much they can do with so little resources. I thought students could help with providing those resources since we all have a stake in safety,” Ruth said.

Ruth gathered students to aid with walks around campus to look out for people, and got the help of some organizations, such as Kappa Alpha Psi. However, the service is not meant to be an organization.

“At the end of the day, we are all students of this campus. A lot of students call this campus home. I want a collaborative effort of students coming together to say we want to make a change, we want to improve the safety of this university,” Ruth said.