Written by University of Connecticut SSDP chapter leader Tyler Williams
On Tuesday, November 11th, two University of Connecticut students, Kevin Oliveira and Samuel Jensen, were waiting to paint one of their school’s approved “spirit rocks” in solidarity with the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority on campus, members of which had recently been the victims of racist and sexist remarks in an incident at that same rock in September.
As Kevin and Sam waited in their vehicle for a parking spot to open up, they were approached by a police officer. Upon initial contact with this police officer, they were asked if they had been smoking marijuana. When the two students replied that they were not smoking, and did not possess any marijuana, the officer continued to claim that he smelled marijuana. The officer took Kevin’s license and registration to run his information.
Shortly thereafter, another police officer arrived on the scene. As he approached Kevin and Sam, Sam turned on his phone to record the encounter. What can be heard in the audio is the officer’s presumptive statement that the two are smoking marijuana. He immediately attempts to get the students to incriminate themselves and “admit” that they were breaking laws. When they deny any wrongdoing, the officer attempts to persuade them to consent to a search. When they refuse the search, the officer is inquires as to where they heard about not consenting to searches. He continues to try and persuade them that they may not be protected by their rights in this instance due to probable cause, and asks again for the two students to confess anything that may be illegal in their possession.
When the two continue to assert that they have no illegal substances on them and that the car does not smell like marijuana, the officers use their flashlights to identify what they claim to be marijuana or marijuana residue in the car (Kevin contends that what they saw was in fact, a dried leaf and some crumbs from snack cakes. There was no leaf or residue collected as evidence, to our knowledge). The officers, claiming that they could smell marijuana, asked Kevin and Sam to step out of the vehicle.
The officers searched the vehicle and both students despite their continues refusal to consent to any searches. According to the students, the bodily searches of the two differed significantly. Sam, a white male, was searched in a rather cursory manner. In the recording, you can hear the police officer being more rigorous with Kevin, a latino male, in the distance. The two students claim that Kevin was treated in a rougher way than Sam, and believe that this difference in procedure may be due to Kevin’s race.
Despite the officers’ multiple claims of probable cause, neither students were charged with any crime. Kevin and Sam are currently pursuing complaints against the UConn Police Department, and have given their permission to have the audio from the encounter broadcast on UConn’s SSDP Radio.
You can listen to the episode, complete with commentary, here: https://soundcloud.com/whus-talk/police-encounter