NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—A new building that Rutgers University officials neglected to realize could easily be climbed by its student body has been modified to make it harder to mount, after an allegedly drunk student was seriously injured in a bad fall.
“This building is constructed in a manner that would easily allow, and may invite, some individuals to climb on top of it,” read an email reported in the student newspaper, the Daily Targum.
Days later, plywood boards were affixed to the structure, located in the center of “The Yard,” a new $92 million 15-story mixed-use building that is a joint venture of Rutgers and New Brunswick Development Corporation (DEVCO).
The plywood additions came after the Targum exposed an incident where a student resident of the adjacent dormitory, fell from the structure and had to be hospitalized.
But, just what the incident means for the university, and the student involved, is still unclear after more than a month of evasive maneuvers on the part of Rutgers Media Relations staff, and the part of the university responsible for dealing with public records requests.
The university has given mixed signals about whether the student who fell from the building is being charged with a crime, denying requests for relevant police reports.
Rutgers University Police Department (RUPD) apparently re-opened a closed case after this newspaper pushed back against Rutgers’ dismissive and contradictory answers given in response to questions and requests.
The RUPD’s publicly-available crime log has been altered several times since the incident first appeared following New Brunswick Today’s coverage on September 14, which had pointed out the incident was missing from the log.
According to the log, at 2:10am on September 9, three investigations began as the result of one single “incident” that occurred: “Accident/Injury,” “Criminal Mischief W/Damage,” and “Defiant Trespasser”
A request filed under the Open Public Records Act (OPRA), and coverage that highlighted the omission, may have changed that, and now case #16-091249 is listed on the public document.
Still, despite a legal requirement that certain information about criminal investigations be provided “within 24 hours or as soon as practicable,” the university still has not been able to provide a complete response.
Section 3(b) of OPRA requires law enforcement agencies including RUPD to release certain information about ongoing criminal investigations during that swift timeframe, but law enforcement agencies don’t always comply.
After requesting several extensions, Rutgers’ Office of Enterprise Risk Management–the Newark-based office in charge of responding to OPRA requests–has so far contradicted itself and Rutgers University Police Department mutiple times regarding the strange case.
“Please be advised that [the incident is not a criminal investigation] and therefore no 3(b) information exists,” wrote Daniel Faltas, the university’s custodian of records at one point.
“Furthermore, please disregard the initial letter you received from this office advising you that a document responsive to your request regarding case 16-091249 was a criminal investigatory record, as there is no criminal investigation associated with this case,” wrote Faltas.
“That was information was provided to you in error.”
But that statement contradicted the RUPD crime log, which at that time, still stated that the “Improper Behavior/Disorderly Conduct” was “Open/Pending.” The other two listings (“Accident/Injury” and “Property Damage”) were listed as “Closed.”
New Brunswick Today took issue with the inconsistency, pointing out that “an ‘Open/Pending’ investigation into ‘Improper Behavior/Disorderly Conduct'” was still underway, according to the September 26 edition of the daily crime log.
“Surely that is a criminal investigation,” wrote this reporter, contesting the veracity of the information provided.
After the message was sent, the RUPD crime log was once again modified, with the “Property Damage” and “Improper Behavior/Disorderly Conduct” cases changed to a new disposition: “Criminal Summons Issued.”
Eventually, the “Accident/Injury” was changed to “Closed.”
Rutgers’ OPRA office has again asked for an extension–until October 14–to answer our question about the contradictions.
On top of that, RU’s Office of Enterprise Risk Management wasn’t the only Rutgers office to change its story when it came to this strange case.
During the week following the unfortunate incident, a university spokesperson reneged on an agreement get answers about the case, then later denied finding out anything few days later, even after he had been credited with providing information by a different media outlet.
Spokesperson EJ Miranda had agreed to get answers to questions about the student falling off the brand-new building, which is slated to be a Starbucks Coffee shop and is currently advertising that it is hiring baristas.
But Miranda never got back to New Brunswick Today’s inquiries, although information about the incident was attributed to Miranda in the Targum.
When confronted days later during a chance encounter in downtown New Brunswick, Miranda claimed he had no information to share.
“I didn’t find out anything,” Miranda responded, after being asked about the student that fell off the building.
Miranda also dodged questions on the school’s new arrangement with Coca-Cola, and a direct question about whether or not Rutgers University was quietly videotaping its students while they were sleeping in emergency temporary shelters set up after a prolonged power outage forced the evacuation of campuses that house some 3,200 students.
During the brief but tense encounter, Miranda got physically close to this reporter and expressed “Excuse me… but are you taping me now?”
“Yes, I’m recording.”
“Please don’t do that without asking me first,” responded Miranda.
Charlie is the founder and editor of New Brunswick Today, and the winner of the Awbrey Award for Community-Oriented Local Journalism. He is a proud Rutgers University journalism graduate, a community organizer, and a former independent candidate for mayor of New Brunswick.