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Expelled veteran’s case gains national attention

Former U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Clay Allred just wants to finish his education at USF, according to Hillsborough Circuit Judge Gregory Holder. However, Allred has found himself in a complicated situation in his effort to return to the university after his expulsion.

The veteran was involved in an incident on Aug. 21, 2014 at a Fowler gas station about a mile or so from USF’s Tampa campus. According to Holder, Allred entered the gas station and asked to use the restroom. The clerk, Qadratullah Hassan, a Muslim, told him the restroom was closed.

Allred urinated on the floor and told Hassan “I don’t like you people.” According to the Tampa Bay Times, Hassan, a Muslim, followed Allred out to his Jeep “to get his tag number and Allred pulled an AR-15 rifle from his Jeep and held it at his side.”

Holder emphasized Allred did not point the gun at Hassan. He then fired into the air three times and drove away.

Allred was arrested for the incident and served time in jail, during which, Holder said, USF offered Allred a hearing, which Allred was unable to attend due to his incarceration. In the end, he was expelled from the university.

His case, according to Holder, was referred to the Veterans Treatment Court (VTC), which is able to martial resources for rehabilitation and reintegration. After entering a plea agreement, Allred went through adjudication, community control (house arrest) and is now on probation. 

He has received treatment from Veterans Affairs (VA), required by his sentence, for addiction, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and a traumatic brain injury. 

“It’s a slippery slope for these men and women,” Holder said.

According to Holder, Allred’s sentence was imposed in March of 2015 and has since become a model in the community control and probation system. Additionally, according to Allred’s VA mentor, retired Col. DJ Reyes, Allred has exceeded his service requirements. He is currently doing very well as of late, Holder said.

“He’s a different person,” the judge stated.

Allred wants to return to USF, as he has 17 credit hours remaining towards his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. Holder, himself a veteran, wrote to USF on Allred’s behalf. The university responded poorly.

“This university has not only a legal obligation but a moral obligation consistent with its stated goals of rehabilitation and reintegration,” he said.

In a letter to Holder, USF Director of the Office of Admissions David Henry said the university does not offer exclusive online program but would support efforts made by Allred to transfer his credits to another institution. 

“The University of South Florida shares the Court’s commitment to assisting veterans seeking to reach their academic goals either at the University or in the appropriate alternative setting,” Henry wrote to Holder.

USF does offer online courses, but not exclusive online programs. However, a USF criminal justice professor emailed Holder telling him she could quickly arrange four online courses for Allred if the university approved them. USF Public Affairs Manager Adam Freeman said USF’s lack of an exclusive online program is because of a lack of measures in place to prevent them from coming on campus or interacting with other students or faculty.

Holder requested to speak to the USF Board of Trustees (BOT) about Allred. The BOT heard him speak but did not take any action. 

“Clearly, part of his treatment is to finish his education,” Holder said.

This same sentiment was expressed by Rebecca Schwartzberg, a staff psychologist with the James A. Haley VA Medical Center in a letter she wrote on behalf of Allred as part of a series of documents Holder sent to the university in support of Allred’s readmission.

“In fact, allowing him to return to his passion of studying and to obtain his degree will give a needed sense of accomplishment, as well as give a much better chance to be successful in the future,” she wrote.

In December, U.S. VA Secretary Robert McDonald wrote to USF President Judy Genshaft commending USF’s work for veterans but also saying he believes “there is still more work to be done.” He requested to meet with Genshaft.

Genshaft replied to McDonald, agreeing to meet with him. She also mentioned, as the university has done in multiple public statements, that USF has been ranked as the number one school in the U.S. for veterans by Money magazine and second in the U.S. by Military Times. 

In statements from the university, USF has talked about its appreciation for veterans and the current success of its student veterans.

“USF respects and appreciates the service of all of our nearly 2,000 student veterans,” USF said in a statement. “We honor that service daily with our support and assistance through well-established resources like the Office of Veterans Success, which has served the needs of student veterans and their families since 1973.  With a 90% employment rate to go along with high retention and graduation rates, the success of USF’s student veterans is undeniable.”

“There is nothing more important to the university, and to me personally, than providing a path to a productive future through education while maintaining a safe environment for all our students,” Genshaft wrote.

McDonald’s response was brief but not hostile, saying he would “love to visit you on one of my trips to south Florida and learn more about what you have done to be so Veteran-friendly.”

The two have yet to come up with a date for their meeting. Holder said it never should have come to this.

The problem is that, as Allred has been expelled from the university, his readmission would be an exception to current USF code. Freeman said once a student is expelled from USF, the student is permanently unable to attend the university.

“The key point here is that USF has established process for admissions … per USF policy, when a student gets expelled, their privilege to attend the university is permanently terminated,” Freeman said. “So, the online only discussion, you can’t get to that point if you’re focused on the expulsion.”

Reyes said the whole situation, however, begs a bigger question about inclusion and diversity.

“it is our moral obligation as a nation to help them heal … (and) help them reintegrate back into the very communities that they swore to defend and protect,” Reyes said. “I think we owe them nothing less.”

Reyes talked about the humanitarian work Allred did as part of a Special Forces team in Afghanistan and said it bothers him when people talk about Allred as though he hates certain people or cultures.

“To me, I believe, that was not (Allred) talking; that was his symptoms, that was the maladies he was suffering that was talking,” Reyes said. “That’s not Clay Allred … He’s a soldier and he cares about people.”

Holder said the VA will look for other avenues and universities as the discussion with USF continues. Holder and Reyes said Allred would still jump at the chance to go to USF again if he could get readmitted.

“You see photos in the newspaper and what’s he wearing? A USF Bulls shirt,” Holder said. “Mr. Allred is very proud of the education he has received at the University of South Florida and wants nothing more than to finish his education and move on with his life as a productive member of society.”

Sharon Kelley, CEO of the Alliance for Global Narcotics Training, recommended education of professionals and non-professionals about how to understand the minds of veterans. Most people, Kelly said, are not subjected to the kind of stress veterans are. She said predisposed biases towards veterans can create a hostile environment.

“You’re setting a precedent by this action or lack of action,” Kelley said.

Kelley said students can help other student veterans on campus by listening and avoiding biases against them. Disorders like PTSD and addiction effect veterans more and more, according to Holder.

According to military.com, approximately “30 percent of the men and women who have spent time in war zones experience PTSD.” 

With this in mind, Holder and Kelley agreed education is important. Those effected by PTSD and traumatic brain injuries are part of the communities around us, Holder said.

“… They walk among us,” Holder said. “They are us.”

Hassan expressed in an interview with the Tampa Tribune his sympathy for Allred, but also his relief that the BOT did not allow Allred back into USF. He said the experience left him with his own nightmares.

“It was a hate crime, and if it was a civilian I wouldn’t have taken it so bad, but it was a veteran and that hurt my heart,” Hassan told the Tribune. “At that moment, I thought my life was over and I was just asking God for a miracle.”

Friday, Allred received an email from USF Admissions Prior Conduct Review Team Chair Maria Zale stating his application would not be allowed to move forward in the admissions process because of his previous expulsion, the severity of the incident and his current status of probation. The email stated he can appeal within a period of ten days.

“This is not about egos,” Holder said. “This is not about personal desires. This is about doing what’s right.”