By Lisa Salinas, Karly Hanson and Alyssa Wentzel
Editor’s note, May 3, 9:50 p.m.: The original version of this story was mistakenly posted before SMU was contacted for comment. We apologize for the error. The post has now been updated with SMU’s response.
SMU student Lauren Steele’s Facebook post went viral after she wrote about an incident involving SMU Police late Friday night.
According to the post, police allegedly thought Steele and her friend were the suspects they were looking for on campus who were asked to leave the dorm halls earlier in the semester. One officer was determined the two fit the description, despite the fact that Steele showed her student ID.
“Unless there is another female on this campus in sweats, flip flops and a kente cloth head wrap, I’m guessing the description was based solely off of the color of our skin,” Steele wrote.
However, Kent Best, executive director of SMU News and Communications, said SMU Police was responding to an incident that occurred on-campus just three minutes before. The interaction between Steele, her friend and SMU Police was 67 seconds, according to time logs on campus security video.
According to Best, a resident assistant in Ware Commons called SMU Police at 11:54 p.m. April 29 to report that she had asked a man and woman who were not residents of the commons to leave after they could not provide student ID cards or explain their reasoning for entering the building.
“The Resident Assistant recognized the man as a non-resident she previously had asked to leave the premises in February,” Best said.
Due to increased campus patrols at night following two robberies and an attempted robbery on-campus, a police officer was near Ware Commons and responded to the call.
The R.A. told SMU Police that the man and woman were “African-American and said the man wore dark clothing and the woman wore red pants and a dark shirt.” The incident is not listed on SMU PD’s Daily Crime and Fire Logs in April or May because no crime was known to have been committed in this case.
The same officer saw an “African-American man wearing red pants and a woman in dark clothing leaving the Commons area to cross the street” three minutes later, Best said.
The two individuals were Steele and her friend.
Steele asserted to members of The Daily Campus staff that she does not believe there is any resemblance between her and anyone on campus, except for the color of her skin.
“When she began to ask us questions I assumed she was trying to see if we had witnessed something suspicious. When she told us we fit the description all I could do was look at my friend and laugh. Us, really? Who on this campus remotely resembles us in any way except for in skin pigment?” Steele said.
Steele said the police officer pressed the issue that she and her friend fit the descriptions of the suspects.
“I gave her the benefit of the doubt up until the moment she radioed her colleagues and those police cars rounded the corner,” Steele said. “I initially assumed she was just being friendly when she approached us, as some officers do.”
According to Best, standard protocol for police is to notify dispatch as she approached the individuals to ask for identification and determined she was a student. Best said three other police vehicles responded to the original calls and officers joined the responding officers.
“The responding officer explained that the two individuals appeared to fit the description provided by the Resident Assistant, but that one was a student and as a result the two were free to leave,” Best said.
Steele said she believes she was being profiled as a suspect for an incident she had no involvement with.
“As someone who writes, sings, talks about issues like this all the time it seemed unreal that it was actually happening to me,” Steele said.
Best said that the safety and well-being of campus community members are the highest priority at SMU.
“After a review of this incident, the University has determined that the police officers involved followed proper procedures, but understands the student’s questions,” he said.
SMU Police continued to search the area for the unknown individuals. They could not be found and it was determined they had left the campus.
Steele stood by her original statements when she talked to members of The Daily Campus following her reaction to the statements released by SMU May 3.
“Upon seeing the description of the people they were looking for, there simply was not any resemblance between us,” Steele said. “Yes, my friend wore what you could consider dark clothing, but I honestly think it could come down to the notion by police officers that have resulted in the death of so many.”
Steele also believes that the interaction between her and the police lasted longer than 67 seconds.
“I do not believe the interaction was only 67 seconds long. Our time with the original officer took place over the course of a few minutes,” Steele said.
Steele stands by original statement of being profiled by the police and is concerned for the diversity on campus in the future.
“If this university’s black students cannot walk outside their dorms without being stopped by the police force dedicated to protecting them, without being stopped and told ‘they don’t look like they belong here’ or being followed by police in their cars around campus, they will leave,” Steele said. “They will not enroll. They will walk away. And SMU’s name will suffer.”
Steel also questions the need for five police officers that came to the scene.
“I worry for the two individuals the police were really looking for,” Steele said. “Why where there five officers and three squad cars to handle two individuals? Unless they were imposing some great threat to our campus security, I can’t help but think that was a little excessive.”
Best said that the large response to the call was due to the heightened security on campus following the robberies and attempted robberies.
Steele said she hopes the university will take measures to better handle situations like this in the future.
“People of color talk. Before coming here I heard my fair share of ‘Are you sure?’ but I came here because I know it is a great university, and I know they are working tirelessly to make this a place where every student will be valued and every student can feel safe,” Steele said.
Read SMU’s statement on the April 29 incident in full here: