USF releases action plan, fires employee following protest
Following the arrests of five protestors in connection with a March 6 altercation between Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and the USF Police Department (UPD), USF said on Tuesday that the one employee involved was fired, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
Attached to the university’s firing of admissions department employee Chrisley Carpio was an official report compiled by USF Central Human Resources and Employee Relations. The report, which was provided to The Oracle by Director for Media Relations Althea Johnson, outlines the March 6 incident from the perspective of UPD.
During the course of the protest, the report stated the group of SDS protestors entered the Patel Center during regular business hours at a time in which a dozen USF employees were meeting in the auditorium. In response, the report added that the volume of the group’s chanting alarmed meeting attendees to the point that they secured the door in a manner aligned with active shooter protocols, at which point UPD responded.
USF Police Public Information representative Michael Lavelle said in a March 6 Oracle article that arrests began after protestors refused to leave the building, initiated physical altercations by pushing officers and began throwing objects at officers. USF junior and SDS member Yuki Shao said in the Oracle article that physical contact was initiated by a UPD officer grabbing a female student, which motivated fellow SDS members to join in to protect the student.
The report stated that a frame-by-frame review of video recording in the building showed that UPD officers did not use any unauthorized equipment or behaviors against protestors – such as pepper spray and choke holds – to remove SDS demonstrators from the Patel Center lobby.
As UPD officers made their expectations clear to SDS demonstrators during the protest, and as no prior demonstrations from SDS had resulted in arrests, the report said that the SDS members knew how to respond to UPD instructing them to cease protests without causing a physical altercation.
Following their detainment, Carpio and other individuals involved in the protest were charged with assault or battery on a law officer, resisting an officer without violence and disrupting an educational institution. Charges were also added against another student protestor, Lauren Pinero, three weeks ago, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
There are currently two students undergoing conduct hearings and one student suspended from attending lectures or campus activities until the end of the fall 2023 semester as a result of their involvement in the protest, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
Carpio was subsequently placed on administrative leave on March 7, according to a March 29 Oracle article, where she then received a notice from the university asking her to meet to discuss its intention to terminate her from her position. Her termination letter listed three USF policy violations and that her belongings would be shipped to her, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
In addition to the report, USF President Rhea Law released an action plan requiring that UPD officers receive body cameras to increase transparency as well as additional training measures for how to interact with demonstrators in cases of physical protest. Some, but not all, current officers employed at USF have undergone small unit crowd control training – or protocols on how a small group of officers should interact with a larger group of demonstrators, according to the report.
Lavelle said UPD has already begun to implement safety measures outlined under Law’s action plan in response to the March 6 protest, according to an official statement he made to The Oracle on Wednesday.
“The University of South Florida Police Department appreciates the university’s prompt review of the incident that took place on March 6, 2023. We understand that every situation to which we respond presents an opportunity to review our practices and, where appropriate, implement new measures to manage incidents more effectively,” he wrote.
“To that end, the USFPD has already started to incorporate strategies that will serve to further strengthen our ties with the USF community and support our mission to provide a safe environment for students, faculty, staff and campus visitors.”
Law also recommended in the action plan that students increase their awareness of university protocols by reading USF’s free expression policies, although the location of the policies were not provided in the statement. She said USF’s Student Success Team plans to work alongside Student Government to grow knowledge among students on civil expression, adding that UPD will increase its outreach to better ties between the department and the student body.
“It’s important for me to reaffirm that USF strongly supports the right to free speech and the hosting of peaceful demonstrations on our campuses. The review of the events on March 6 offers a series of recommendations and provides an opportunity for our university to improve how we handle these activities. We should always strive to enhance our operations, policies and procedures,” Law wrote.