Columbia Plaza student-residents say management not responsive to concerns

For years, student-residents of Columbia Plaza apartments have been fervently complaining about how they have been treated by management. But officials from GW, which partially owns the building, are telling students it’s not the University’s problem.

One of the biggest complaints from students living in Columbia Plaza is the behavior of an off-duty Metropolitan Police officer hired to patrol the building, identified by students as Charles Fisher.

Students said Fisher is known to forcibly knock on residents’ doors, intimidate residents, use obscene language, unnecessarily force guests to leave rooms and issue notices on behalf of Columbia Plaza informing students that they must change their behavior or lose housing. Students said Fisher refuses to give his name to them but they learned his identity through Columbia Plaza management.

Brian Hamluk, GW’s director of off-campus student affairs, said he is unaware that students had problems with intimidation from Columbia Plaza and said students should direct any complaints to the apartment’s management. He also said that Columbia Plaza management, not GW, is responsible for hiring security.

Students claim police intimidation

In January 2004, a female student was arrested for disorderly conduct after Fisher requested assistance from on-duty officers because he thought she was being unruly. Following her arrest, she filed complaints with MPD and the D.C. Office of Citizen Complaint Review, claiming that she was wrongfully detained and that the officer was “belligerent.”

“They were really rude,” she told The Hatchet at the time. “They didn’t even let me take my shoes and jacket, but my roommate managed to bring them to me.”

Speaking on the condition that she not be named, the student said last week that she ultimately dropped her complaints because they proved to be a hassle and did not want to involve her roommates.

In February 2004, Nate Faggioli, then a junior, was also arrested but did not file any complaints. Faggioli said an inebriated friend kicked over a newspaper stand, prompting Fisher to come running out of the building after the two.

Fisher allegedly told Faggioli that he, not his friend, would be brought to jail for disorderly conduct after the student requested Fisher’s name and badge number. An on-duty MPD officer arrived and transported Faggioli to the Second District station, where he posted bail and paid a $25 misdemeanor disorderly conduct fine.

Faggioli said a lawyer advised him that the costs of fighting were not justifiable because the arrest would always be on his record, regardless of the outcome.

“I went to the (Columbia Plaza) office to complain about (Fisher), and they just didn’t care about him at all. They started getting really pissed off at me,” Faggioli said.

MPD declined to comment on the complaints against Fisher, but said off-duty officers have all the rights and privileges of on-duty officers.

“He is a lawful police officer in a lawful place doing a lawful job,” MPD public information officer Junis Fletcher said. “If there is a criminal complaint such as a music complaint, it’s not out of order for an officer to address a violation off-duty.”

Columbia Plaza management did not return six phone calls for this story. Fisher could not be contacted over the last two weeks.

After learning about the complaints against Fisher from The Hatchet, the president of the building’s tenants association, Marilyn Rubin, attempted to talk to property manager Luz Aljami, about the situation. Aljami would not listen to the complaints, Rubin said.

“I hate dealing with Aljami. I find her despicable and the rest of the staff follows her lead,” Rubin said. “I have tried to go to bat for the kids here.”

A man who answered the phone at Aljami’s home residence said she was not available.

Students said most of Fisher’s visits stem from allegations of excessive noise. Senior Emily Stick, a resident of the building, said that over the summer she had about eight people in her room for drinks before going out for the night when Fisher knocked on her door.

Stick said Fisher informed her that all the people in the room had to leave and used obscene language before escorting everyone out of the building – including the residents.

“We were nothing but polite,” Stick said. “He had a uniform and gun. He was totally intimidating us and looking down on us.”

In late August, just prior to the beginning of the fall semester, another senior had a similar experience.

“(The officer) was threatening to us (about) three times,” said the senior, who requested anonymity for fear of eviction by Columbia Plaza management.

The anonymous senior received two noise complaints in two consecutive nights and received notification from Columbia Plaza that one more complaint would cause him to be evicted. He also said that security goes out of its way to “pick on the GW students,” but conceded that students probably make more noise than the building’s older residents.

Many students living in the building do so through a Community Living and Learning Center lease program. GW is entitled to about 230 of the complex’s 800 apartments based on its share of ownership. CLLC director Seth Weinshel declined to discuss the University’s relationship with the apartment complex, located at 502 23rd St.

“The building has its own security. They do what they want,” GW associate general counsel Linda Schutjer said. “I wish I had more control over the management.”

Other issues

Students’ displeasure with management is not limited to problems with hired security. When senior Sarah Konopka’s room was burglarized, she said management was “extremely unhelpful” and told her it was a unique problem.

She said, “They told us this kind of thing never happens and told us were the only ones and that the cameras were broken the day of the robbery.”

But Konopka said she heard the manager say the exact same thing to another resident.

Rubin, the building’s tenant association president, said it is difficulties with the management that are the source of most residents’ problems, Rubin said.

When Aljami arrived several years ago, the noise stopped and much of that had to do with her no-nonsense attitude, 28-year resident Rita Champagne said. Champagne said the tough stance on noise is appropriate and that it is not meant to intimidate students but to create a suitable living environment for everyone.

“The management is a lot better then it used to be,” she said. “We have had the police before (Aljami arrived) but there is a lot less noise around here because management cracked down on noise.”

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