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Questions Raised About Guard's Suspension

By Joe Mathews

A Harvard security guard who championed discrimination claims made by his colleagues has been suspended without pay for 10 days for his behavior during a September 8 conversation with a Black Graduate School of Education student.

The guard, Stephen G. McCombe, received the suspension Tuesday following an official probe into the incident by Associate Dean for Medical School Faculty Affairs Margaret L. Dale, who was brought in as an outside investigator. McCombe allegedly raised his voice and was "hostile and belligerent" towards third-year doctoral candidate Richard Rakobane while the student sat by his car on Appian Way.

Herbert J. Vallier, the police department's assistant director for finance and administration, handed down the suspension. He said the matter was "sensitive" and declined to discuss any specifics.

"We had a very serious allegation that was raised," Vallier said. "I thought we had to be very careful, and we were."

There were no racial remarks or innuendoes in the conversation between Rakobane and McCombe, according to letters submitted to the University by both men. But Rakobane, a Black South African, felt that McCombe singled him out for harsh words because of his race.

Dale's confidential report on the incident, which was obtained by The Crimson, says that "Mr. McComber's behavior in this instance was not appropriate for a Harvard University security guard."

While stopping short of calling the incident racial harassment, Dale writes that she understood Rakobane's complaint.

"It is...quite possible that Mr. Rakobane's race caused Mr. McCombe to approach Mr. Rakobane with suspicion and hostility, despite the absence of provocation or cause," Dale's report says.

But one department source said a two-week suspension for such an incident was an extreme punishment for a guard like McCombe, an 11-year veteran with no history of disciplinary problems.

"You don't just give a person two weeks after11 years of service with a clean record," thesource said. "It just doesn't happen."

The report quotes two witnesses, both of whomwere also interviewed by The Crimson, as sayingthey heard McCombe speaking loudly at Rakobane butcould not understand what the guard was saying.

One witness, Education School student Lee-BengChua, said McCombe was yelling, but the other,University mail handler Wayne Battle, said in aninterview that the guard didn't yell but wasmerely engaged in a heated exchange.

"I heard a lot of things but I really can't saywhat they were now," Battle said.

After the incident, Rakobane's friend HelenSnively told Dale and repeated in an interviewWednesday night, "Richard was a combination ofpuzzled, insulted and astonished."

The witnesses' reports, however, differed onsuch basic facts as whether Rakobane was sittinginside or outside the car during the exchange andwhether McCombe approached the student from insideLarsen Hall or from his own parked car.

The report says that a third witness to theincident, United States Postal Service employeePaul Shannon, could not be interviewed. The reportsays he failed to reply to "repeated telephonecalls and a letter."

But in a telephone interview with The Crimsonyesterday, Shannon contradicted the statements ofRakobane and the other witnesses.

"I felt the security guard was pretty much inhis realm of responsibility," said Shannon, whohad seen McCombe around campus previous-ly.

Although he did not hear the actualconversation that ensued, Shannon said McCombe didnot raise his voice as he approached the student:"[He wasn't loud] when he approached the man. Byno means. There were no histrionics, no wavinghands."

According to Shannon, McCombe was behavingprofessionally. "The man was not gruff; heattempted to be polite," he said. "His attitudewas not feisty; it was within the parameters ofgood behavior."

"It was basically, 'Excuse me, I'm justcurious, was that your car?' That was hisattitude," Shanon said.

A letter submitted to the department by McCombealso disputed the account of Rakobane and thewitnesses. The guard said he questioned Rakobaneonly after a woman in Larsen Hall complained thata man was sitting on his car in the street and"acting weird."

McCombe said in the letter that he askedRakobane whether he needed help and whether he had"any business in the area." McCombe said Rakobanethen accused the guard of questioning him onlybecause he was Black.

After that, McCombe said Helen Snively, afriend of Rakobane's who was walking by, told himthat Rakobane was a student. Assured of that fact,McCombe said he immediately continued with hisguard duties.

'That's Wrong'

When McCombe's account of the incident was readto him yesterday, Rakobane said: "That'swrong....He never asked about help, he simply toldme to leave. And I never talked about my beingBlack."

Rakobane also charged that he was harassed by adifferent guard that same day in September and byMcCombe four days later. But Dale found that boththe guards acted appropriately in those cases.

Although the incident occurred on September 8,Rakobane did not officially file a complaint onthe incident until October 24. The complaint wassent to police officials and security supervisorThomas F. Henaghan, who McCombe has charged withharassment and discrimination in the past.

Dale's report says that Rakobane had written anearlier letter in late September, but policeofficials said they never received it.

Retaliation?

Last fall, McCombe complained that Henaghanwould not let him go directly from his job to thehospital after the guard experienced chest pains.But Dale's report says there was no connectionbetween Rakobane's complaint and Henaghan's pastproblems with McCombe.

The security department hired Rakobane for ajob during the week of October 17.

In his new job, Rakobane alleged thatdepartment officials are trying to retaliateagainst him for pursuing his complaint againstMcCombe. He said that while he was never formallytrained in how to do his job, officials havesuggested he is not conducting the proper roundson his security patrols.

Rakobane also said Sgt. John Miller called him"out of the blue" yesterday morning to suggestthat he had made inappropriate long distance callsat Christmas time. Rakobane said he never made anysuch calls.

"I don't know what is happening right now,"Rakobane said yesterday. "I think what they aredoing to me now is retaliation and victimization."

Rakobane said in yesterday's interview that hehas an attorney, Geraldine Hines, to representhim. Asked whether he was considering legalaction, the student declined to comment.

Rakobane said he was not pressured into makinghis complaint against McCombe, but said departmentofficials seemed eager to press a charge againstthe guard.

"In talking with people in the department, Igot the sense they don't like him that much,"Rakobane said. "I wouldn't quote anyone's name onthis, but there was this sense that they wouldhave liked to get him."

Guards' Charges

Over the past three years, 11 former or currentHarvard security employees have charged theirdepartment's administration with discrimination.Some of the employees filed union grievances, and,in most cases, McCombe represented them.

"I believe this suspension is happening becauseI've worked to help minorities in the departmentin the past," McCombe said this week. He refusedto comment further.

Some security guards, including McCombe, alsoalleged that Police Chief Paul E. Johnson and VicePresident and General Counsel Margaret H. Marshallcondoned retaliation against guards who complainedabout working conditions.

In an interview two years ago this month,McCombe said police officials, in concert with thegeneral counsel's office, had engaged in a"pattern" of retaliation against securityemployees. He said officials routinely dealt withworkers who complained about favoritism byexaggerating disciplinary claims against them.

A report issued by the general counsel's officein July 1993 said that allegations by McCombe andother guards were baseless. While the report alsodetailed "management" problems in the securitydepartment, the report's authors charged thatMcCombe had exaggerated claims of discriminationout of personal animosity for then-Manager ofOperations for Security Robert J. Dowling. Dowlinghas since been forced to leave his job.

McCombe and other guards have challenged the1993 report, saying it is full of inaccuracies.

In an apparent attempt to head off charges thatthey were retaliating against McCombe, thedepartment put Dale in charge of an investigationthat Harvard officials maintained would beindependent. But lawyers from the Office of theGeneral Counsel, which oversees police andsecurity, participated as well, documents show.

Interviews with witness to the September 8incident suggest that Dale's was not the onlyinvestigation into the matter. Chua said Wednesdaynight that he was questioned by a Harvard policeofficial "a couple of weeks before" his interviewwith Dale.

Reaction

A Black security guard, interviewed this weekon condition of anonymity, said the suspension ofMcCombe has made him and other guards fearful oflosing their jobs.

"As a Black person, I feel they are retaliatingagainst Steve," the guard said. "The bottom lineis that they owe Steve for what he has said."

"I'm very scared for my job," he added. "If hegets two weeks for nothing, what do you think theyare going to do for me?"

The Black guard also expressed disbelief at thereason for the suspension. "If you know Steve, youknow he has a loud voice," he said.

Several guards interviewed by The Crimson notedthat there was no suspension handed out after asimilar incident in October. In that case, InatiNtshanga '95--who, like Rakobane, is a Black SouthAfrican--accused Science Center guard RaymondGonzalez of racial harassment.

Ntshanga said Gonzalez ordered him out of theScience Center and rudely interrupted his sessionon the computer network. Police Chief Paul E.Johnson said at the time that Gonzalez hadviolated department procedure, but he was notsuspended.

McCombe's suspension came as a shock to manystudents who know him as an unfailingly friendlyguard.

"I've known him for about a year now," saidGregory J. Davis '95, a Mather House resident, whois Black. "A number of students chat withhim--he's very gregarious. I've seen him deal withall kinds of students--men and women, Black andwhite... and I've never witnessed any unfair orhostile remarks in my presence."

Friends describe Rakobane as similarly friendlyand talkative. Still, he was reluctant to talk toDale, until he got an attorney.

Dale's report notes that Rakobane twicecanceled appointments to be interviewed inNovember. He was finally questioned on December21, more than a month after McCombe's interview onNovember 11.

Snively, a friend of the student's who wasinterviewed by Dale, said Rakobane's experience asa Black South African has made him sensitive toracial slights.

"I can see how there could have been somemicrosecond of behavior from Richard that set thisguy [McCombe] off," Snively said. "But I don'tmean to say by that that Richard's behavior was inany way wrong. I'm suggesting that this was one ofthese misunderstandings we often see.

"You don't just give a person two weeks after11 years of service with a clean record," thesource said. "It just doesn't happen."

The report quotes two witnesses, both of whomwere also interviewed by The Crimson, as sayingthey heard McCombe speaking loudly at Rakobane butcould not understand what the guard was saying.

One witness, Education School student Lee-BengChua, said McCombe was yelling, but the other,University mail handler Wayne Battle, said in aninterview that the guard didn't yell but wasmerely engaged in a heated exchange.

"I heard a lot of things but I really can't saywhat they were now," Battle said.

After the incident, Rakobane's friend HelenSnively told Dale and repeated in an interviewWednesday night, "Richard was a combination ofpuzzled, insulted and astonished."

The witnesses' reports, however, differed onsuch basic facts as whether Rakobane was sittinginside or outside the car during the exchange andwhether McCombe approached the student from insideLarsen Hall or from his own parked car.

The report says that a third witness to theincident, United States Postal Service employeePaul Shannon, could not be interviewed. The reportsays he failed to reply to "repeated telephonecalls and a letter."

But in a telephone interview with The Crimsonyesterday, Shannon contradicted the statements ofRakobane and the other witnesses.

"I felt the security guard was pretty much inhis realm of responsibility," said Shannon, whohad seen McCombe around campus previous-ly.

Although he did not hear the actualconversation that ensued, Shannon said McCombe didnot raise his voice as he approached the student:"[He wasn't loud] when he approached the man. Byno means. There were no histrionics, no wavinghands."

According to Shannon, McCombe was behavingprofessionally. "The man was not gruff; heattempted to be polite," he said. "His attitudewas not feisty; it was within the parameters ofgood behavior."

"It was basically, 'Excuse me, I'm justcurious, was that your car?' That was hisattitude," Shanon said.

A letter submitted to the department by McCombealso disputed the account of Rakobane and thewitnesses. The guard said he questioned Rakobaneonly after a woman in Larsen Hall complained thata man was sitting on his car in the street and"acting weird."

McCombe said in the letter that he askedRakobane whether he needed help and whether he had"any business in the area." McCombe said Rakobanethen accused the guard of questioning him onlybecause he was Black.

After that, McCombe said Helen Snively, afriend of Rakobane's who was walking by, told himthat Rakobane was a student. Assured of that fact,McCombe said he immediately continued with hisguard duties.

'That's Wrong'

When McCombe's account of the incident was readto him yesterday, Rakobane said: "That'swrong....He never asked about help, he simply toldme to leave. And I never talked about my beingBlack."

Rakobane also charged that he was harassed by adifferent guard that same day in September and byMcCombe four days later. But Dale found that boththe guards acted appropriately in those cases.

Although the incident occurred on September 8,Rakobane did not officially file a complaint onthe incident until October 24. The complaint wassent to police officials and security supervisorThomas F. Henaghan, who McCombe has charged withharassment and discrimination in the past.

Dale's report says that Rakobane had written anearlier letter in late September, but policeofficials said they never received it.

Retaliation?

Last fall, McCombe complained that Henaghanwould not let him go directly from his job to thehospital after the guard experienced chest pains.But Dale's report says there was no connectionbetween Rakobane's complaint and Henaghan's pastproblems with McCombe.

The security department hired Rakobane for ajob during the week of October 17.

In his new job, Rakobane alleged thatdepartment officials are trying to retaliateagainst him for pursuing his complaint againstMcCombe. He said that while he was never formallytrained in how to do his job, officials havesuggested he is not conducting the proper roundson his security patrols.

Rakobane also said Sgt. John Miller called him"out of the blue" yesterday morning to suggestthat he had made inappropriate long distance callsat Christmas time. Rakobane said he never made anysuch calls.

"I don't know what is happening right now,"Rakobane said yesterday. "I think what they aredoing to me now is retaliation and victimization."

Rakobane said in yesterday's interview that hehas an attorney, Geraldine Hines, to representhim. Asked whether he was considering legalaction, the student declined to comment.

Rakobane said he was not pressured into makinghis complaint against McCombe, but said departmentofficials seemed eager to press a charge againstthe guard.

"In talking with people in the department, Igot the sense they don't like him that much,"Rakobane said. "I wouldn't quote anyone's name onthis, but there was this sense that they wouldhave liked to get him."

Guards' Charges

Over the past three years, 11 former or currentHarvard security employees have charged theirdepartment's administration with discrimination.Some of the employees filed union grievances, and,in most cases, McCombe represented them.

"I believe this suspension is happening becauseI've worked to help minorities in the departmentin the past," McCombe said this week. He refusedto comment further.

Some security guards, including McCombe, alsoalleged that Police Chief Paul E. Johnson and VicePresident and General Counsel Margaret H. Marshallcondoned retaliation against guards who complainedabout working conditions.

In an interview two years ago this month,McCombe said police officials, in concert with thegeneral counsel's office, had engaged in a"pattern" of retaliation against securityemployees. He said officials routinely dealt withworkers who complained about favoritism byexaggerating disciplinary claims against them.

A report issued by the general counsel's officein July 1993 said that allegations by McCombe andother guards were baseless. While the report alsodetailed "management" problems in the securitydepartment, the report's authors charged thatMcCombe had exaggerated claims of discriminationout of personal animosity for then-Manager ofOperations for Security Robert J. Dowling. Dowlinghas since been forced to leave his job.

McCombe and other guards have challenged the1993 report, saying it is full of inaccuracies.

In an apparent attempt to head off charges thatthey were retaliating against McCombe, thedepartment put Dale in charge of an investigationthat Harvard officials maintained would beindependent. But lawyers from the Office of theGeneral Counsel, which oversees police andsecurity, participated as well, documents show.

Interviews with witness to the September 8incident suggest that Dale's was not the onlyinvestigation into the matter. Chua said Wednesdaynight that he was questioned by a Harvard policeofficial "a couple of weeks before" his interviewwith Dale.

Reaction

A Black security guard, interviewed this weekon condition of anonymity, said the suspension ofMcCombe has made him and other guards fearful oflosing their jobs.

"As a Black person, I feel they are retaliatingagainst Steve," the guard said. "The bottom lineis that they owe Steve for what he has said."

"I'm very scared for my job," he added. "If hegets two weeks for nothing, what do you think theyare going to do for me?"

The Black guard also expressed disbelief at thereason for the suspension. "If you know Steve, youknow he has a loud voice," he said.

Several guards interviewed by The Crimson notedthat there was no suspension handed out after asimilar incident in October. In that case, InatiNtshanga '95--who, like Rakobane, is a Black SouthAfrican--accused Science Center guard RaymondGonzalez of racial harassment.

Ntshanga said Gonzalez ordered him out of theScience Center and rudely interrupted his sessionon the computer network. Police Chief Paul E.Johnson said at the time that Gonzalez hadviolated department procedure, but he was notsuspended.

McCombe's suspension came as a shock to manystudents who know him as an unfailingly friendlyguard.

"I've known him for about a year now," saidGregory J. Davis '95, a Mather House resident, whois Black. "A number of students chat withhim--he's very gregarious. I've seen him deal withall kinds of students--men and women, Black andwhite... and I've never witnessed any unfair orhostile remarks in my presence."

Friends describe Rakobane as similarly friendlyand talkative. Still, he was reluctant to talk toDale, until he got an attorney.

Dale's report notes that Rakobane twicecanceled appointments to be interviewed inNovember. He was finally questioned on December21, more than a month after McCombe's interview onNovember 11.

Snively, a friend of the student's who wasinterviewed by Dale, said Rakobane's experience asa Black South African has made him sensitive toracial slights.

"I can see how there could have been somemicrosecond of behavior from Richard that set thisguy [McCombe] off," Snively said. "But I don'tmean to say by that that Richard's behavior was inany way wrong. I'm suggesting that this was one ofthese misunderstandings we often see.

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