University waits hours to notify community of gun threat

The University Police Department received a report Tuesday that a man threatened to bring a gun to campus and attack individuals, but the University failed to notify the community for hours.

A suspect said he “was coming to George Washington Medical Center with an AK-47 to kill some doctors and patients,” according to police records. University officials initially declined to confirm the threat or estimate the level of risk at hand, deferring all questions to the Metropolitan Police Department.

There are discrepancies as to when UPD first received word of the man’s threat.

  • Timeline of events
  • 10:00 a.m.
    UPD receives report that an individual “was coming to George Washington Medical Center with an AK-47 to kill some doctors and patients.”
  • 11:57 a.m.
    UPD notifies MPD. MPD officers dispatched to the scene.
  • 12:11 p.m.
    MPD officers arrive at Medical Faculty Associates.
  • 12:36 p.m.
    Hatchet inquires about threat to UPD Chief Kevin Hay after receiving a tip.
  • 12:51 p.m.
    University spokeswoman Michelle Sherrard responds on behalf of UPD and declines to comment, deferring all questions to MPD.
  • 1:07 p.m.
    MPD public information officer Anthony Clay confirms a threat of a weapon on campus.
  • 1:20 p.m.
    Michelle Sherrard confirms that UPD received a “non-specific threat.”
  • 2:53 p.m.
    University sends out an Infomail about the “non-specific threat.”
  • 9:49 p.m.
    Michelle Sherrard declines to comment on results of the investigation.
  • Source: Metropolitan Police Department documents.

The threats were reported at 10 a.m., according to police documents. MPD public information officer Araz Alali confirmed on two separate occasions that the agency’s records show UPD was notified at 10 a.m. and alerted MPD at 11:57 a.m., two hours after receiving the report.

But Senior Associate Vice President for Safety and Security Darrell Darnell said the Medical Faculty Associates contacted UPD “shortly before noon” about a “non-specific threat made at an off-campus location regarding unnamed doctors.” He said the department called MPD immediately.

An account of the events

A suspect called Bread for the City, a local organization that provides services for low-income individuals, and said he planned to visit GW’s medical center – the Medical Faculty Associates located at 2150 Pennsylvania Ave. – with an AK-47 to shoot doctors and patients, according to police records.

At 11:57 a.m., MPD was called to the scene, Alali said, and officers arrived by 12:11 p.m.

The Hatchet inquired about a potential threat of weapons on campus with UPD Chief Kevin Hay at about 12:36 p.m. after receiving a tip. University spokeswoman Michelle Sherrard responded instead, deferring all questions and comments to MPD.

She declined to confirm the reports of a potential weapon threat, saying MPD was the lead on the incident.

MPD public information officer Anthony Clay confirmed officers were investigating a threat of a weapon at the building at about 1:07 p.m.

“The MFA received a non-specific threat against doctors,” Sherrard later said, nearly an hour after the initial inquiry. “MPD is on the scene and investigating. We have no evidence that someone is on campus with a weapon. MPD is the lead and should be contacted with questions.”

The University released the Infomail at about 2:53 p.m. saying it was aware of the threat and officers were investigating, but it had “no information that there is a person on campus with a weapon.” The Infomail also called the threat “non-specific.”

Public information officer Hugh Carew said at about 6:40 p.m., MPD had left the scene.

Sherrard said again that night that all questions should be directed to MPD.

D.C. resident Tanya Keys, who reported the suspect’s threatening call, declined to comment.

The Clery Act’s timely warning requirement

The Clery Act, passed in 1990, calls for colleges to “immediately notify the campus community upon the confirmation of a significant emergency or dangerous situation involving an immediate threat to the health or safety of students or employees occurring on the campus.”

Attorney Adam Goldstein said the incident prompts questions regarding the University’s compliance with the Clery Act, a federal law that requires campus police units to issue timely warnings to the community in the event of an immediate threat.

“The point of the Clery Act was to give students enough information to protect themselves,” attorney Adam Goldstein said. “It could be a violation of the Clery Act…even if it’s not, it’s really just shoddy behavior.”

Darnell said UPD evaluated the situation and concluded there was no immediate threat to the campus community.

“Threats to the campus community are investigated thoroughly and taken seriously,” he said. “If a crime had been committed on or near our campus that presented a serious or ongoing threat to the campus community, or if we believed there was a significant emergency or dangerous situation on campus involving an immediate threat to students or employees, an alert would have been issued.”

He said the University issued the Infomail in response to Hatchet reports of the threat.

“It was important to reassure the community that we had no information indicating that there was a person on campus with a weapon,” Darnell said, adding that the incident does not warrant a warning under the Clery Act because “no crime was committed on or near campus that presented a serious or ongoing threat to the campus community, nor was there a significant emergency or dangerous situation involving an immediate threat to students or employees occurring on campus.”

Timely warnings are not solely intended for violent crimes or crimes against individuals, according to the Department of Education’s Handbook for Campus Safety and Security Reporting.

“Timely warnings can be issued for threats to persons or to property… This is critical; it’s expected that even if you don’t have all of the facts surrounding a criminal incident or incidents, you will issue a warning,” according to the handbook.

Goldstein said he didn’t understand how an individual who said he would bring guns to campus was not perceived as an immediate threat.

“What are they waiting for? Do they just wait out front to see if [the suspect] shows up? Whether or not they violated the letter of the Clery Act, they violated the spirit of the Clery Act,” he said.

A Department of Education official said the agency would need to investigate the incident to determine if GW violated the Clery Act, but would be concerned about delays in warning the campus of a potential threat.

University spokeswoman Candace Smith declined to comment on how UPD determined an individual threatening to bring an AK-47 to campus to “kill some doctors and patients” was not legitimate.

She also declined to say why officials did not initially comment on the level of the threat if it was not considered a concern and if contingency plans were put into place after receiving the reported threat.

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