University pressing legal action over racially charged incident
FORT KENT – The University of Maine at Fort Kent is pressing charges against the people who attempted to break into a university residence hall on Saturday morning, April 12, said Fort Kent Police Chief Kenneth Michaud. The university is also pursuing internal judicial proceedings with one, and possibly more, students involved in an alleged assault that occurred prior to the attempted break-in.
According to police reports, witnesses, and video, in the hours after midnight on April 12, a group of as many as six Caucasian men and one woman damaged a door as they tried to break into a residence hall where a black student lives following a fight at a local bar.
At least one witness said that a local man threatened to kill black people in Fort Kent after a fight at Beejays Tavern between Kevin Phillips, 21, of Troy, N.Y., and John Kelly of Fort Kent, according to a witness statement.
Police have charged Phillips, who is black, with aggravated assault.
An ambulance took Kelly, who is Caucasian, to Northern Maine Medical Center to treat a head injury he received as a result of the fight.
It is unclear at this time if Kelly was the person who allegedly made the threat.
While Kelly was at the emergency room, police received reports that a group of people was attempting to break into Crocker Hall, a UMFK residence hall where Phillips lives.
Assistant Dean of Student Life and Development Ray Phinney said that surveillance video shows one male approached the entrance to Crocker Hall on Saturday morning. “The first person comes up and tries to open the door and then just studies it,” said Phinney.
The man leaves, but then returns again with a larger group of people, including one woman. “He comes back 40 minutes later with a bunch of his friends. They pull on the door. They start to pull the hinges off the door.”
“We had around 6-7 individuals. We know some of them. We are working with the police to guarantee that the safety of our buildings is maintained,” said Phinney.
A dispatcher at the Fort Kent Police said the department would release the names on Wednesday of the persons police are charging.
While the Saturday morning events were occurring, Assistant Director of Student Activities and Residence Life Theresa Biggs was inside the building, watching the men and talking to police on the phone.
Biggs said frightened students asked her to come to the building. “They were scared, because people were coming to the door, and nobody really wanted to see who it was.”
Biggs reassured the students, and they stayed out of the line of sight from the door so the group of intruders were unable to see them.
“As the noises got really loud, everyone came inside [their dorm rooms]. They were running to their dorm rooms because they were scared,” said Biggs.
Biggs and some students made sure the other doors were secure, and a student kept watch from an upstairs dorm room in case the people returned.
Biggs, who is from South Africa, said she has experienced similar situations. She said, “I was more afraid what could happen if these unidentified elements could come inside our building. If everyone was in a dorm, what would they have done, knock on everyone's door?”
Biggs said she hopes that the incident leaves the reputation of Fort Kent and the university unharmed. “Fort Kent is known to be one of the safest places. For me, this has been one of the safest places I have ever lived,” she said.
UMFK President Wilson Hess said the university is pursuing internal judicial proceedings in regards to the incident and the behavior of at least one student. “We have a responsibility when people violate our codes and get involved in these sorts of things and to let them know that we have expectations there. It's for the student body's good that we have those expectations.”
Hess declined to identify the student or students the university may be investigating.
Hess referred to the weekend incident as a “...volatile mix of pieces of people's opinions and intoxicating beverages.”
“It was obviously a very unfortunate incident, and we are going to have to let our law enforcement proceed in their due diligence process. The response of the community folks and law enforcement folks was appropriate and we appreciate that.”
Hess commented on the incident in broader terms, saying, “As we deal with human beings, it is unfortunate these sorts of things occur.”
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