Chapman Grand students accuse Public Safety officer of harassment

Some residents of Chapman Grand are claiming that a Public Safety officer has “harassed” them, making them feel “dehumanized” and “targeted.” Melanie Tran, a sophomore pre-pharmacy major, filed a complaint and a no-contact order against the officer, which caused him to be temporarily reassigned from Chapman Grand while the complaint is under review. Photo by Cassidy Keola

When sophomore Melanie Tran moved into Chapman Grand, the $150 million complex that first housed students in August 2018, she didn’t expect to feel like it was a “prison” before the school year ended.

Tran, a sophomore pre-pharmacy major, told The Panther she felt “dehumanized” and “targeted” after she said a Public Safety officer has been “harassing, stalking and attacking” her on multiple occasions.

The officer stood outside of her apartment door March 30, Tran said, and waited for Tran and four of her friends to exit her apartment so he could question them – what about, Tran said, she doesn’t know.

On April 4 and 11, Tran filed a university complaint form and a no-contact order against the officer, which is a protective measure used to “prevent unnecessary or unwanted contact or proximity” to another person, according to Chapman’s Title IX policy.

DeAnn Yocum Gaffney, associate vice president of Student Affairs, emailed Tran April 12 informing her that her no-contact order was put in place so the officer “is not permitted to contact (Tran) in any way” and that he has been reassigned from working at Chapman Grand “while this matter is under review,” according to the email, which Tran provided to The Panther.

The Panther has chosen not to name the officer accused of harassment.

“I heard a walkie-talkie outside and looked through my peephole, and he was outside. He didn’t knock on the door or ring the doorbell,” Tran said. “He was just standing there.”

Will Goh, a sophomore health sciences major, said he has also been harassed by the officer. This semester, Goh has had about four negative encounters with the officer, he said.

On March 30, Goh and a friend turned and walked away from the officer when Goh saw him, Goh said. Goh’s friend was able to leave, but Goh said that the officer told him to sit in the back of a Public Safety vehicle while the officer drove him around the premises to try and unsuccessfully find Goh’s friend.

“We weren’t causing any trouble – we were just walking through – but I saw him around the corner and my heart sunk,” Goh said. “This whole adrenaline rush hit me. I wasn’t doing anything wrong.”

Goh said he felt traumatized by the ride. The Public Safety officer let Goh out of his vehicle and made him pour out the contents of a bottle he was holding on the ground outside of Chapman Grand. Goh was embarrassed, he said, as drivers entering the parking gate watched the scenario unfold.

“He was asking me, ‘Why’d you run?’ and I told him I got scared and panicked because we’ve had bad interactions in the past,” Goh said.

“He was asking me, ‘Why’d you run?’ and I told him I got scared and panicked because we’ve had bad interactions in the past.”

When Tran and Goh left Chapman Grand together later that day, Tran said they were “cornered” by the officer on the parking lot’s second floor. They allege that the officer demanded they “comply with the student conduct code.”

Students are required to identify themselves if a university official asks, according to Chapman’s student conduct code.

“While we do not need probable cause to request someone to identify themselves, we typically do not do so without good reason,” Chief of Public Safety Randy Burba wrote in an April 10 email to The Panther.

Burba denied The Panther’s request to interview the officer accused of harassment, but said his department takes claims like this seriously – and said that if someone complains, he follows up.

Burba was not aware of the complaints made against the officer when The Panther interviewed him April 4.

“We always want to know if anyone has concerns about their interactions with Public Safety officers,” Burba said.

Tran requested that a residence life representative come to the parking lot the night of March 30, saying she felt “attacked” by the officer.

The residential graduate assistant allowed Tran, Goh and three of their friends to leave.

“(The officer) said, ‘Give me your identifications’ and I asked him what his reasoning for it was. He didn’t reply or tell me why he needed it,” Tran said. “It was a Saturday night and I couldn’t even leave my own apartment complex.”

Tran emailed Erin Ash, the area coordinator for Chapman Grand, March 31 to discuss the “unprofessionalism (sic)” and “trauma” she said she’s experienced from living in Chapman Grand.

The following day, Ash responded to the email, encouraging Tran to fill out an official university complaint form, which Tran told The Panther she did April 4.

“I’m glad to see that you CC’ed Dave Sundby to this message as he has meetings with the Chief and has confirmed that he will be sharing your concerns to him and his team at this meeting,” Ash wrote in an email to Tran, which Tran provided to The Panther.

Ash declined to be interviewed, deferring media requests to Dave Sundby, director of Residence Life and First Year Experience. Sundby declined to discuss Tran’s complaint, citing resident and faculty privacy, but said Chapman’s Residence Life staff wants to meet with students and address their concerns.

“Our No. 1 priority is caring for students and providing a supportive, conducive living and learning environments for all our residents,” Sundby said.

On April 9, Tran said she met with Ash and Misha Martinez, the Equal Opportunity and Diversity officer from Chapman’s Human Resources department, where Tran was told she should reach out to Human Resources should there be a future altercation with the Public Safety officer.

“In our mission statement, it says to build partnerships with students,” Burba said.

If students don’t know or trust Public Safety, then they won’t come to officers for help, Burba said.

“You can stop us, but don’t disrespect us, don’t talk down to us and dehumanize us,” Tran said. “This is more than us; this is the future of Chapman Grand.”