An officer’s conduct sparks outcry from students
On Sunday, Feb. 15 at around 8:50 p.m., the fire alarm in Patapsco Hall was triggered, prompting an evacuation of the building. UMBC Police Officer Jamie Cheatem responded to the scene, and his alleged conduct has sparked an outcry from students and an investigation by the police.
According to independent accounts from several students, Officer Cheatem responded to the alarm and attempted to find out who caused it to go off. Eyewitnesses reported that Cheatem asked the crowd “Who likes to cook?” and told them that they wouldn’t be able to go back inside if no one confessed. A student who had been cooking in the first floor kitchen of the west wing came forward.
Kyle Beggs, a junior math and statistics double major who witnessed the event said, “The police officer pretty much started harassing him and said ‘Who are you? What’s your name? What did you do?’ And the guy answered. And [Cheatem] said ‘Now turn around and tell them that you fucked up.'”
The officer also instructed the student to tell the crowd his name and that he couldn’t cook.
Only then, after the student faced the crowd and gave them his name, were the residents allowed back into the building. Until that point, residents had been standing outside in single-digit weather.
Almost immediately, students took to Yik Yak, a location-based app where users can post statuses anonymously, to give their reactions to the student’s treatment by Cheatem. One user wrote, “Why the HELL did the cop decide it’s okay to publicly shame a kid instead of letting us all inside.”
While students were upset about being evacuated and forced out into the frigid 8 degree weather, many of them, both on Yik Yak and when asked in person, voiced their support of the student and condemned Cheatem’s actions.
One Yakker wrote, “public humiliation is probably the worst way to deal with something like this.”
Majed Ammari, a freshman biology major, said, “The police force over here should be much more professional than what [Cheatem] did. I know the person who caused the fire alarm, and he’s a really nice kid. He was genuinely really sorry about what he did, and there was no reason to embarrass him in front of everybody. I felt like a policeman would set a better example than that.”
Ahmed Warshanna, a freshman jazz performance major, said, “They should be wary of what they say and how they act because a lot of people right now are unhappy with the police… I know UMBC cops and they’re nice, but that was just uncalled for.”
When asked for an official statement about the incident, UMBC’s Deputy Chief of Police Paul Dillon said, “We’ve received a complaint about alleged misconduct,” on Sunday night. Dillon also stated that he had submitted paperwork to launch an internal investigation of the officer’s conduct on Monday morning. The investigation should take a couple of weeks.
The student involved has been contacted, but has declined to comment on the situation as of the time of this writing.
Cheatem’s handling of the situation has many students upset, including Beggs. “It doesn’t matter — like, what position of power [Cheatem is] in — that’s really low to call someone out for something that was probably an accident. … It’s happened three times before this semester, and nobody’s ever been called out for it. … To call someone out for something like that is really fucking low.”