Administrators respond to UCPD allegations

University administrators have responded to the Maroon investigation revealing that a UCPD detective was working undercover at the February 23 trauma protest.

Photo: Anonymous Submission
Undercover UCPD detective Janelle Marcellis texts Deputy Cheif of Investigative Services, Milton Owens, updates about the protest and the organizers' demands.

After a Maroon investigation revealed that an on-duty UCPD detective dressed in plainclothes posed as a protester and marched in the February 23 trauma center protest, University administrators denounced the incident.

According to a statement from UCPD Chief of Police Marlon Lynch, the UCPD’s plan for the protest did not involve a detective posing as a protester.

“The event plan created and implemented by UCPD did not approve of any officer actively participating in the protest. That will be one focus of an internal investigation undertaken by the UCPD,” he said in the statement.

In addition, Lynch stated that “two employees have been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of this internal review.”

University spokesperson Jeremy Manier said in an e-mail that “University leaders were not aware that a UCPD officer would pose as a protester. The first that University leaders learned of this issue was from the Maroon story.”

In response to the Maroon article, Provost Thomas Rosenbaum and President Robert Zimmer e-mailed a statement to the campus community on Sunday, condemning the presence of an undercover UCPD detective at the protest.

“We view this action as totally antithetical to our values, and such activity, which is deeply problematic for discourse and mutual respect on campus, cannot be tolerated. We will appoint an external independent reviewer to investigate the precise facts of this incident, as part of taking action to ensure that such behavior does not happen again.”

The logistics and timeline of the external review have yet to be decided.

Students for Health Equity (SHE), whose members met with Lynch the day before the protest to outline the intended path of the march and to ensure that they did not break any laws, also released a statement expressing their concerns regarding who will receive the blame for this incident.

“We are concerned that a few officers will be scapegoated and that the administration will not take responsibility for the implicit go-ahead they’ve given for these kinds of tactics…. The police spy was deployed in the context of University disregard for community and student concerns, and for that reason is unsurprising,” it stated.

A statement by Student Government, stating that it has been working with both UCPD and University administrators to “build constructive relationships between the UCPD and the student body,” said that “Student Government maintains that the top priority of UCPD should be to guarantee the safety of students on campus. These new allegations run counter to our discussions with UCPD and members of the University Administration, and we look forward to continuing dialogue in light of this specific incident.”

In a letter intended to be sent out to undergraduate students today, according to fourth-year SHE member Olivia Woollam, a group of social justice student groups including Movimiento Estudiantil Chican@ de Aztlán, Organization of Black Students, Southside Solidarity Network, Stop Funding Climate Change UChicago, SHE, Students Organizing United with Labor, UChicago Climate Action Network, University of Chicago Coalition for Immigrant Rights, and the Socially Responsible Investment Committee shared their response to the events and what they consider a lack of transparency from the University last night.

“When peaceful student protest organizers inform police and administration of their exact plans and marching route, and the official response is police infiltration, students will demand a better relationship with the administration, if not a new one entirely,” it states. “A faculty committee will not fill the gap between the administration and the university community on this latest or any other issue.”

The Maroon investigation obtained photographic evidence that Detective Janelle Marcellis marched in the protest while working undercover. The full story can be found here.

Additional reporting by Madhu Srikantha.

  • Mark

    Why on Earth would these officers be suspended for this perfectly reasonable behavior? This treatment of staff is unfair and bad for morale.
    The V for Vendetta crowd needs to ditch the Guy Fawkes masks and get over themselves.

    • Brian

      It would indeed seem strange to suspend employees for perfectly reasonable behavior, Mark. Perhaps, then, the UCPD disagrees with your characterization of unauthorized undercover activity at this protest as “reasonable.”

      There’s also the bit about this behavior being “totally antithetical to our values,” in the words of University President and V for Vendetta Crowd Member Robert Zimmer. And by the way, you wouldn’t tell Provost Thomas Rosenbaum to ditch the Guy Fawkes mask if you saw how fabulous he looks in his.

  • Ed

    I think it was inappropriate for RSOs to send out a mass email to undergrads this morning. I don’t even know how I ended up on their listhost! They demand transparency from the administration, but they’re not being transparent with how they collected all of our email addresses

    • Anonymous

      Yes, how did they get access to our e-mails?

      • Alumnus

        College emails are publicly available on directory.uchicago… anyone has access to them.

        • Anonymous

          Yes, but some people did not receive the e-mail, and their addresses are on the directory. I highly doubt they went through a +300-page PDF file to search for e-mail addresses.

    • JohnDoe

      A great way to bring people to your cause is to spam their e-mail. Even better when you spam alumni’s e-mail (like mine)…

    • K

      Agreed. I find all of these emails incredibly annoying. I appreciate that the admin is getting involved, but the fact is they are catering to a special interest group. Their private conversations and negotiations don’t need to be broadcast this widely. I get all the info I need from the paper.

    • The Opportunity to Voice a Response

      You do realize that our emails are publicly available on the directory? If you have a problem with that policy I suggest you speak to the administration (though you will likely not get a response).

      Aside from that, over the past few weeks we’ve been bombarded with mass emails from one or two Administrators and SG Reps without a second thought or public discussion. These messages try to sweep away controversy and dialogue on campus whenever embarrassments like this occur.

      Given the lack of an open forum or the opportunity to voice their concerns an administration that will not meet with them, a coalition of student groups deserved the opportunity to voice to these concerns both to the administration and to speak to the student body.

      • Anonymous

        Yes, e-mails are publicly available on the directory. But that doesn’t explain the fact that some students whose e-mails are also on the directory did not receive the e-mail. So either they didn’t use the directory or they went through some sort of selection process and targeted certain students.

        • Terry Bennet

          Obviously a conspiracy of some sort is in play for, as we all know, things always work perfectly in the e-verse.

  • Dra

    Ed, as students we are automatically on the “Students of the University of Chicago” list host. That aside, I agree with you that the mass email we received this morning was inappropriate. It seems like these RSOs are going beyond their scope in reaching out to a community whose members may not be all that interested in their message (if I cared about MEChA, for instance, I would go to their meetings – but I don’t care about them, think that their proclivity for scandal and sensationalism is obnoxious, and resent the fact that my tuition dollars are being allocated to fund their nationalist organization). Further, they should not have emailed the student body their rough draft – and if that wasn’t a rough draft, then sorry, but it reads like one. Their ideas are not fully developed, and I got the impression that they just threw random things in there. I can get behind transparency, but the gas, coal, and oil industries? What? Where on earth did that come from? How did an email whose body was an expression of the need for administrative transparency conclude with remarks on race? To all the RSOs named in the email, please refrain from abusing your list host privileges to tell me what you think. Trust me, I can live without your whining.

    • Anonymous

      Who runs this listhost? I’ve held several leadership roles in RSOs and I’ve never had the privilege of being able to e-mail the entire undergraduate body.

    • Ed

      It’s not a university-sponsored listhost. It’s on MailChimp.

      It seems that these RSOs somehow collected all of our email addresses, added them to a mailing list without our permission, and sent us a message from a Gmail account named “Students of the University of Chicago”.

      Not only was it inappropriate for them to send unsolicited mail, but it was also inappropriate for them to imply (through the email address) that they were speaking on behalf of the student body. Only Student Government can do that.

      • wut

        >implying the current SG speaks for the student body

  • Gene G

    I’m disappointed that the U of C chapters of the ACLU and the National Lawyers Guild have not issued statements decrying this serious threat to First Amendment rights. Even if it is legal, it is clearly wrong. It’s good to see the U take action but I’m still wondering why someone with years of undercover police work (obviously, with less intelligent targets) was a good hire for UCPD? Something is wrong with the direction UCPD is heading.

  • Why?

    Yet another example of MEChA et al. spewing sanctimonious crap in an obviously desperate effort to become relevant on a campus that does not need them nor care about them. What on earth gives these people the right to bother me or any other student on campus with their manifesto? And as Dra mentioned above, the least they could’ve done was proofread.

    It is also highly disturbing that these people are, for all intents and purposes, out for blood. What else do they want? The UCPD has already put several of its own on unpaid leave. Are we really advocating for a group of people to lose their jobs over something so trivial? Grow up and find something else to whine about. Or better yet, grow up and realize that no one cares.

  • A Student Sick of Emails on Any Activist Subject

    The RSO email was absolutely out of line. These organizations have the Maroon writing piece after piece on them and their own list hosts. Therefore, in their honor, and because I, as a student, have neither the time nor the inclination to figure out the MailChimp, I have composed an letter of my own:

    Dear Movimiento Estudiantil Chican@ de Aztlán, Organization of Black Students, Southside Solidarity Network, Stop Funding Climate Change, UChicago, Students for Health Equity, Students Organizing United with Labor, UChicago Climate Action Network, University of Chicago Coalition for Immigrant Rights

    While I would never infringe upon someone’s right to speech, must my email be held hostage to one position? If my views are incongruent with objections raised within the letter, must I still by silently?

    Can I not have freedom from the tyranny of position, and only one position in my inbox? Can I not have the freedom to opt out of this ludicrous debate between two equally ludicrous institutions — the administration and its critics.

    Please, friends: don’t force your message into my inbox. Use your own list host. Use sympathetic list hosts. Otherwise, we must be prey to every idea and thought of every organization on campus, whether or not we agree with them.

    I do not disagree with your message, necessarily, but your method of delivery.

    A Student Sick of Emails on Any Activist Subject

  • Art

    Ms. Sharon Ellis is right. Chief Lynch frequently changes his stories as he goes along. That has been his story since he was first hired by the University in 2009 and this is no secret to most UCPD staff. Up and down, and flim-flam with no standard form of discipline for the troops have been this Chief’s trademark. Keeping UCPD officers and the University community in the dark as to what is going on has been and still is counter productive. Is it true that sergeants or officers need special permission from the Chief or Lieutenants or above to go on the first floor of their police headquarters to talk to brass or to a secretary or to a timekeeper about their compensatory time on the books? Just recently it was found out that UCPD officers in plain clothes, or ordinary clothes, or undercover clothes; a play with words, and in unmarked cars, have recently been instructed to target traffic violators in the university community and rigorously issue traffic tickets for activity. Will they be writing traffic tickets to students or faculty members? How many robbers or burglars or thieves have these UCPD officers caught in recent years? Their dress wear would be better suited to catching these types of individuals. Let’s not cheat the university community. Someone from the maroon might check. The Chicago Police Department would not instruct plain clothes officers in unmarked cars to enforce traffic in an unmarked car and definitely not in plain clothes for the sake of traffic enforcement. A defense is “I did not know that was the police your honor that’s why I ran or I did not stop”. The Cook County jail is full of police impersonators. Some had badges and flashing lights on their cars. It is a shame that Det. Marcelis has been placed on administrative leave for doing her job and following the orders of Deputy Chief Owens sanctioned by Chief Lynch. Did the Detective do anything illegal? UCPD officers in the past, some of whom were very good at policing have under Chief Lynch been fired and/or demoted who have not made any mistakes or done anything illegal. Some have moved on to be successful and respected police officers on other departments. Some officers were fired for minor mistakes which several Chicago Police Commanders related would warrant only days off without pay for the infraction such as cursing at another officer in public. Consequently, the UCPD officers walk on egg shells. This environment would demotivate or dishearten employees in most organizations attempting to be productive. Anyone who has studied organizations is aware of this. Can one see how this is a disservice to the university community in terms of officer behaviors? Did the officers overreact during the protest? Do the officers under react or feel uncomfortable when they should not out of fear they might make a minor mistake and be dismissed from the UCPD. It is clear that Chief Lynch is scrambling for damage control after his own mistake during the protest. By placing Detective Marcellis on administrative leave he shifts the blame from himself as if it were her fault or somebody else’s. Hopefully the many other mistakes the Chief has made during his tenure in the UCPD will come to light. The Chief sure knows how to play with words even to his superiors. Undercover, plain clothes, ordinary dress… fluff.