The University of Miami Police Department is investigating an incident last Wednesday in which two officers apprehended a student at gunpoint in the School of Communication breezeway, only to find out it was a case of mistaken identity.
At around 8 p.m., the officers spotted a student who fit the description of a suspect wanted in the attempted theft of a motorcycle near the law school. Jordan Chusid, a junior political science major who had just transferred from the University of Central Florida, was talking on his cellphone and walking to the parking lot after a Spanish class.
The incident was captured on tape by a group of communication students who were practicing with video cameras at the time. Chusid was not arrested; after questioning, the officers determined he was not the suspect they were looking for and released him.
“I thought it was a reality show or something, like Punk’d,” Chusid said later in a taped interview with some of the communication students. “I thought Ashton Kutcher was going to come out of like the trees or something.
Chusid could not be reached for further comment. He did not reply to an e-mail and Facebook message from The Miami Hurricane, which obtained copies of the tapes from the communication students.
UM Police Chief David Rivero said the incident is under investigation and he could not comment about it.
“The incident is currently under investigation to determine if law enforcement officers acted appropriately,” said Karla Hernandez, the university’s director of media relations. “We are consulting the Dade County State Attorney’s Office as is the procedure on any case involving an allegation of officer misconduct.”
In the tape, Chusid appears to comply with the officers’ order to stop. He got down on his hands and knees. One of the officers kicked his arms out from under him so that Chusid was flat out on the ground. Then an officer kicked the cell phone out of his hand.
Chusid was handcuffed and taken over to a nearby seat for questioning. After several minutes the officers apparently determined they had the wrong person, uncuffed him and allowed him to use his phone.
Three communication students who witnessed the incident all described a fast-moving and scary scene that unfolded in front of them. One of them, graduate student Akilah Johnson, recorded the scene with her video camera.
“I actually thought it was a joke,” said Nicole List, another graduate student in the class. “I thought we were being tested because it was our first day. But when it wasn’t, I was just shocked.”
“I didn’t know what to think,” added fellow student, Einar Thorsteinsson. “He didn’t look like a criminal, but I guess who does?”
Rivero did not release the names of the officers involved in the incident. When asked about officers pulling their weapons on campus, he said that university policy allows officers to use their own discretion in deciding whether to pull a gun on a suspect, including a student.
“The decision is all up to the officer,” Rivero said. “The officer must decide whether there is fear in the situation.”
The City of Miami Police Department urges their officers to use their own judgment for pulling a gun. They are instructed only to pull the trigger when ones life is in danger.
“There is not a hard and fast rule about when an officer should pull his gun out,” said Delrish Moss, the City of Miami Police Department’s public information officer. “He [the officer]has been trained when to shoot and when not to shoot, only when the potential for deadly force is there.”
As for police having guns on campus Moss said, “One of the things that have caused a lot of concerns is young kids wearing baggier clothes and concealing a weapon.”
UMPD said someone attempted to steal a motorcycle near the law school earlier that day. The suspect was a young, white male wearing a red t-shirt and shorts.
According to the witnesses and Chusid himself, the resemblance was uncannily close.
Chusid said afterward that he did not think this incident would change his mind about attending UM. He then added:
“I always somehow have a story for the first day [of classes]. Everywhere I go, there is always something weird that happens to me. This tops it, though.”