University administrators respond to Saturday’s DMT arrests
In a meeting with campus media this evening, Todd Olson, university vice president of student affairs, and Julie Green Batialle, university spokesperson, revealed more details surrounding the DMT arrests in Harbin Hall last Saturday.
“The fact is it was a day that was confusing in many ways,” Olson said.
Olson and Bataille would not comment on any impending disciplinary actions against John Romano (COL ’14) and Charles Smith (SFS ’14), the residents of the ninth-floor Harbin Hall dorm room where Public Safety officers discovered a so-called “DMT lab” early Saturday morning.
At an arraignment hearing at the D.C. District Court this afternoon, Romano was released and relieved of all charges against him. Smith and John Perrone, a freshman at the University of Richmond, will be charged with “conspiracy to manufacture” and “possession with intent to distribute” and will be held without bail until at least Wednesday.
“The students are not on campus at this time,” Olson said. “We take matters like this very seriously.”
Shortly after 5 a.m. on Saturday, Department of Public Safety officers responding to a complaint about a strange odor discovered Romano, Smith, and Perrone in Harbin 926 with drug paraphenalia, chemicals, and other equipment. Although Olson confirmed that DPS officers responded to a strange odor, he would not comment on the possibility that authorities received a tip that drug sales took place in that room, too.
According to a sworn statement filed with the D.C. District Court, MPD and DPS officers “received information that there were individuals selling drugs” at the dorm room.
Olson also confirmed that the dormitory’s fire alarm system malfunctioned during the evacuation, as originally reported by Vox.
“During the first evacuation on Saturday morning, the audible alarm in the building did not sound,” he said. “Other parts did function and did report to DPS that there was a fire alarm going off in Harbin … but the fact is that the audible alarm did not sound.”
According to Bataille and DCFD Public Information Officer Pete Piringer, Harbin Hall passed an inspection by the D.C. Fire Marshall’s Office earlier today.
“We’ve had technicians looking at that and have assured us now that that it was a one time problem,” Olson added.
The fire alarm system malfunction was not the day’s only misfire, however. At 9:19 a.m., Harbin residents received permission to re-enter the dormitory, only to be re-evacuated at approximately 9:30 a.m. on the advice of the Drug Enforcement Administration. Early media reports also suggested the students were producing methamphetamine misrepresented University officials’ statements, according to Olson.
“What actually got reported was different,” he said. “We always qualified [conversations about methamphetamine production] with ‘alleged.'”
And although Olson wrote that “there was never a health risk to students in Harbin,” GERMS spokesperson Mary Jane Reen (COL ’11) told Vox that GERMS transported two people to Georgetown University Hospital “as part of the response.” Olson did not explain the disparity between his comments and the GERMS report.
“There were a number of steps taken quickly to try and make life comfortable for students,” he said. “The fact is it was a day that was confusing in many ways.”
Olson also explained why the University failed to use the HOYAlert system to notify students of the emergency. Because the evacuation was specific to Harbin Hall, he claimed, the University did not need to use its emergency response system.
“It was clear to us from all the guidance we were getting that there was not a threat to the broader community,” Olson said. “The decision was made to focus our efforts with those students in Harbin and update the University community about the whole matter later on, as we did.”
During the meeting, Olson didn’t rule out potential consequences for other Harbin residents who were found to possess prohibited items, such as illegal drugs, during the evacuation.
“I would not rule that out if there were illegal drugs found in other places,” he said. “When there are legitimate reasons to search the residence hall space or some other purpose, and illegal drugs are found, that can lead to student conduct action.”