Students Question Police Dorm Search

Prior to entering the room of three undergraduates suspected of committing drug violations last Friday, Harvard University Police Department (HUPD) officers first searched the dorm room next door on a noise complaint, two DeWolfe residents said yesterday.

According to Kristi L. Jobson ’06 and Cat P. Walleck ’06, a man identifying himself as an HUPD officer and dressed in plain clothes knocked on their DeWolfe suite last Friday at about 8 p.m.

“He said, ‘I’m with HUPD, there was a complaint of loud music,’ but he didn’t show us a badge,” Walleck said yesterday. “And I said, ‘Well, okay. There is obviously no loud music playing because my door is open.’ And when I sounded hesitant, he said, ‘My supervisor is in the hallway,’ but she didn’t come to the door or introduce herself.”

Walleck said she ultimately allowed the officer to enter the room, adding that he did not confiscate anything.

“He said he was looking for a radio but there was zero music,” said Jobson, who is also a Crimson editor. “Our reaction was that he had to have been looking for something else.”

Jobson said she told Aaron D. Chadbourne ’06, who serves on the Campus Safety Committee, about the search. Chadbourne said he contacted HUPD spokesman Steven G. Catalano about the incident yesterday.

Catalano wrote in an e-mail last night that police were just made aware of this allegation yesterday.

“It was assigned to Captain Linda McCaul to investigate,” he wrote in an e-mail. “Beyond that, we can’t comment because we haven’t investigated it.”

Catalano said earlier this week that an officer entered a room in 10 DeWolfe last Friday night and charged four undergraduates with marijuana possession. He said the officer, who had been patrolling the parking lot adjacent to the building, investigated after detecting what he suspected was the scent of marijuana coming from a window on the second floor.

Catalano declined to comment further on HUPD’s search policy or whether the department received any noise complaints the night of the incident. Online public police logs do not mention any noise complaints at 10 DeWolfe that night.

“The reason he gave was ludicrous,” Walleck said. “He asked to be let in the room because of loud music. He probably would’ve come to the door and asked us to turn the music down instead of asking to come and see the loud music.”

After being let in, the officer cursorily searched Jobson’s bedroom, she added.

“He looked around [Jobson’s] room a little bit,” Walleck said. “He looked on her bed and looked on her desk. He mostly was looking out the window to, I guess, locate himself inside the building.”

Jobson and Walleck’s room and the suspects’ room have the only second-floor windows in 10 DeWolfe visible from the parking lot.

SCOPE OF CONSENT

Civil rights experts said yesterday that the search raised privacy questions.

“That’s pretty darn dubious if they weren’t playing music,” said Simon Stern, a Harvard Law School lecturer who has published work about the Fourth Amendment. “Still, if you have reason to think that a crime has been committed and you’ve narrowed it down to two places, a court would agree there was probable cause to search the rooms.”

But Harvard Law School Lecturer Wesley Oliver said the reason given for a search may affect the scope of the consent.

“The scope of the consent is governed by what the officer said he’s looking for,” he said. “So, if an officer asked, ‘you wouldn’t mind us looking for elephants in your shed?’ ‘Well, officer, go ahead’ but that’s not consent to search his tool box. Here, the cop says, ‘I’m looking for a stereo’ and he doesn’t look like he’s searching for a stereo.”

But he added it was clear to the residents from the officer’s request—to search for an item commonly found in college dorm rooms—that he was looking for something else, so they likely consented.

“I think it was creative,” he said. “If he said, ‘do you mind if I look around for drugs,’ everyone is going to say no.... What’s interesting here is he has in some ways exceeded the scope of consent. He went to places that clearly had no stereo.”

John Rinstein, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, said that while Harvard administrators reserve the right to enter students’ rooms through the housing agreement, this waiver would not permit a fully deputized police force like HUPD to enter rooms without residents’ consent or a warrant.

“I don’t think that students even under that agreement have waived all privacy rights,” he said. “What Harvard has retained under the room agreement is to search in specific instances, such as for appliances. But the administrators’ entry can’t be used as a pretext for conducting what is otherwise a law enforcement search that would require a warrant.”

Walleck said she gave the officer consent to enter. But Jobson said the experience “continues to make me feel weird.”

“It’s made me feel a little unsafe and it made me feel uncomfortable,” she said.

‘PRETTY BLATANT’

The four undergraduates charged with drug violations have not yet been arraigned, and HUPD declined to provide details or confirm the suspects’ names until arraignment.

According to the original police log entry, the three DeWolfe roommates were charged with possession of marijuana near a school or park with intent to distribute. The University-affiliated Radcliffe Day Care Center is located one floor below the suspects’ suite in DeWolfe.

Possession of a Class D substance, which includes marijuana, with intent to distribute carries a sentence of no more than two years, or a fine between $500 and $5,000, or both, according to Massachusetts General Law. But a drug violation within a school zone carries a minimum sentence of two years in prison and a maximum of 15 years.

Walleck said that she has detected the scent of marijuana in her second-floor hallway.

“It’s pretty blatant,” she said. “I’ve definitely smelled it walking down the hallways. One time, there was a glade plug-in in the hallway.”

One of the undergraduates being charged, Jason R. Gardner ’07, told The Crimson earlier this week that he and his roommates allowed the officer to enter the room. Gardner added that the officer had told them that he did not need a warrant to enter the room.

Middlesex District Attorney Spokeswoman Emily LaGrassa said yesterday that the office had not yet received word of the charges. Catalano confirmed yesterday that there have been no arraignments in this investigation yet.

—Staff writer Robin M. Peguero can be reached at peguero@fas.harvard.edu.