On the morning of November 29, 2017, I taught my 8:15 am ethics class in Kirby Hall at Felician University’s Lodi campus. Having taught class, I returned to my third-floor office in Kirby around 9:30. At a little after 10 am, I received a call from Dr. Edward Ogle, the University’s Vice President for Academic Affairs (hereafter, “VPAA”). The VPAA asked me to come to his office immediately, as something “urgent” had come up, offering no further elaboration. I told him I was on my way. I put on my coat and took my wallet, leaving my phone in my desk. As I left the building, I was met by the VPAA in the company of two uniformed officers of the Lodi Police Department. The VPAA asked me to accompany him to his office in the company of the officers, and I did.
On reaching his office, we encountered a third uniformed officer, apparently a sergeant, who said: “You’re not under arrest, but you’re being held.” He then read me my rights. I remember his mentioning my right to remain silent, but don’t remember whether he informed me of a right to have an attorney present. He then asked whether I understood my rights. I said I did. He asked me whether I was willing to discuss the matter at hand. “No,” I said. “Well,” he said, “that makes things easier,” walking into a nearby hallway to make a phone call. I heard only one sentence from the sergeant’s end of the call: “Nothing. He hasn’t said anything.” Which was true enough, and stayed that way all afternoon.
The sergeant returned, and I was then surrounded by the three officers–one in back of me and one to my left, with the sergeant directly in front of me. The sergeant asked the officer behind me to pat me down. He did. I seem to remember being was asked whether I was armed: I said no. I was asked if I had my ID with me. I said yes. I was asked to produce it. I did so. After taking my driver’s license, I was asked whether the address on it was current. I said it was. The officer read the address to me and asked for confirmation that it was my current address. I said it was. I was asked if I had driven my car to work today. I said I had. I was asked if my car answered to a certain make, model, and color. I said it did. I was asked where it was parked. “In the parking lot nearest to Kirby Hall,” I said. I was asked how long I had taught at Felician. “Since 2008,” I responded. I was asked what I taught. “Philosophy,” was the answer. I was then asked a more philosophical question: “Philosophy: what does that include?” “Lots of things,” I said, adding: “I’m not answering any more questions.”
I answered the questions concerning identification because I was aware that such questions are not covered by Fifth Amendment protection. I answered the questions about being armed because while I wasn’t aware of their exact legal status, I thought it prudent to answer them under the circumstances. The same rationale applied to the questions about my car and address. When the questions turned to philosophy, however, I felt tricked into a line of questioning that seemed clearly off-limits, given my invocation of my Fifth Amendment right to remain silent–and I more or less went silent at that point, breaking the silence only when I felt I absolutely had to, or when I was more or less tricked into responding somehow. No specific charge was ever made against me.
The officer then turned from me to the VPAA, starting up a conversation about the ornaments on the walls of his office. I interrupted the small talk by addressing the VPAA. “Ed, do you know what this is about?” I asked the VPAA. The sergeant, hearing me speak, took the opportunity of trying to join the conversation. I told him I wasn’t talking to him; I was talking to Ed. Ed declined to answer my question. The officer then tried to speak for Ed. I told Ed that the officer had no right to speak for him: I was having a conversation with him (Ed) and him alone; I was not speaking to the officers and had no intention of doing so. Ed again declined to answer my questions. We sat awhile in complete silence.
Eventually, I was told that I was being taken to the Lodi Police Station. I was (involuntarily) ordered to stand up, to turn left out of the office, to exit the building, and to get into a waiting car. I was buckled into the back seat, but not handcuffed. I was then driven to the Lodi Police Station.
At the station, I was met by the police chief, Vincent Quatrone. Quatrone spoke very quickly, loudly, and volubly, and seemed somewhat agitated. (I found it hard to believe he actually was as agitated as he seemed, but I can’t be sure.) I don’t recall whether or not he re-read me my rights, but I insisted in any case on remaining silent. He told me I had a right to remain silent, but told me that he found it irrational that I had chosen to do so. I shrugged. He said he acknowledged that it was my right to remain silent, but didn’t understand why I was taking such a “hard line.” I said nothing. He asked me whether I agreed with him that it was irrational. I was silent at first. He persisted in asking the question. I said no, I didn’t agree. He asked if I was willing to talk. I said no. He asked for an explanation for why I wasn’t talking. I said, “Well, if I told you that, I couldn’t remain silent, could I?”
He seemed exasperated. He said, “Do you have any idea how this is being spun? You’re being described as a threat, the federal authorities are involved, and they’re getting the SWAT team ready.” “A threat?” I asked, dubiously. He said “Yes.” So I said, “Then go ask the person who made the allegation.” He said, “Are you now re-engaging with me?” I said no. He told me that the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office was on the way; I laughed. (I found the matter funny because I happen to know the prosecutor and had previously met his detectives in an academic context. The prosecutor was also scheduled to speak at Felician the following week–at my invitation.) The chief was annoyed at my laughter and said, “I’ve never seen anyone comport himself with your demeanor in here.” I said nothing. He then asked me several questions about firearms. One was whether I “had” a firearm. I said no. Another was whether I had either a permit, a license, or an application for a firearm. I said no.
He said he would leave me in the room unless I wanted to re-engage. I said OK. He told me he had the right to detain me, citing the law in his favor, and telling me that he knew the law because he taught it. I told him that I “understood” him (this was soon to become my mantra). He said he had a responsibility to the public to keep them safe. I said, “I understand.” He said he was going to keep them safe. I said, “I understand.” And so, he said, “you’re just going to have to sit here.” I get you,” I said, just for a change of pace. He said, “We’re being nice to you: no cuffs, no rough stuff.” I said, “I get it, yeah.” He said, “I’ve been looking out for your rights here. You said you don’t want to talk, I made sure you don’t, and now I’m going.” “Yes,” I said, “I understand.” This went on for awhile; then he left.
I had met both of them before. Anzilotti I had met when I toured the prosecutor’s office at the prosecutor’s invitation in the spring of 2017, and I’d met Guzman when the prosecutor had visited Felician a year earlier at my invitation with the Rutherford police chief, John Russo (November 2016). In 2016-2017, I served as the chairman of a Committee on Leadership and Social Justice, created by Felician Trustee Leland McGee, and had organized an event series on “Race and Criminal Justice in America” that involved inviting outside speakers to address Felician’s students on that topic. As some of the speakers were regarded as “anti-police”–Mark Denbeaux of Seton Hall, Junius Williams of Rutgers–I had, by association with them, acquired a similar reputation. Students later told me that Lodi Police officers stationed outside my door during my detention had commented angrily and sarcastically at the “anti-police” flyers they saw taped to my door, advertising the preceding events, and advertising my membership in the ACLU.
At any rate, back at the station, the detectives, in the company of two Lodi police officers, took me to a break room in the back of the building. Their demeanor was friendly. Anzilotti told me that he wanted to sit around a table there and “settle this like gentlemen.” He said he saw no point in prolonging this affair, since we all “knew what this was about,” and the whole thing was a matter easily cleared up. All they needed was my consent for them to search my car and premises, consent that I could give by signing the forms they had conveniently brought with them. And, Anzilotti added, they didn’t need my consent to search my Felician office, as the office was Felician property rather than my own. He then gave me a short speech on why I should talk. I heard him out for awhile, then said, “I guess you’re going to have to do this the long way, because I don’t intend to talk.”
They remonstrated with me a bit. I repeated that I wouldn’t talk. Guzman pointed out that we knew each other. I said “I know.” He said, “Didn’t we meet last year when the prosecutor came to speak at Felician with that guy…what was his name?” “Russo,” I said, completing his sentence. “Russo!” he said back, in recognition. Recognizing that he was trying to build rapport with me and start up a “friendly” conversation, I indicated, once again, that I was “not talking.” Crestfallen (or appearing that way), Guzman said: “It’s not like we’re trying to incriminate you or anything.”
For the next fifteen or twenty minutes, the detectives repeated bits and pieces of things I was supposed to have said in class–they had by that time clearly interviewed my students–telling me that I surely knew what they were talking about, and inviting me to explain my comments. At this point, I not only refused to respond to questions, but refused to acknowledge the questions (or questioners) altogether, whether by word or by gesture. I kept silent, kept completely still, and began to stare blankly at the wall or the table, making sure not to nod “yes” or “no” or convey any sense of agreement with anything being said. I didn’t claim to recognize the conversations, didn’t acknowledge knowing what they were talking about, and didn’t explain anything.
After awhile, they asked if I would at least look at the consent forms for search. After first saying “no,” I finally said I would look. I spent a long time looking at them–I found them surprisingly confusing–then handed them back and said, “no.”
They then asked me to stand up and empty my pockets. I did. In them were three pens, my wallet, a music CD (Rush’s “Presto“), 30 cents in change, and several Lactaid tablets. I surrendered these things, my coat, my scarf, and my keys. (I got them back when I was released.)
They asked if I had a phone. I said no. They pointed out that if I said no but actually had a phone, they would charge me with perjury. So I emptied all of my pockets in front of them. There was nothing in them. I had left my phone in my office.
The last question of the day came from Guzman, who asked: “Just for shits and giggles, why are you doing things this way?” This time, I didn’t bother to explain the contradiction between taking the Fifth and explaining why one was taking the Fifth. I said nothing. I just shook my head in a no.
Throughout the questioning, when the talking got persistent, I returned to my old refrain: “I get you. I understand what you’re saying.” One persistent comment throughout the interrogation was the complaint that I was making things overly difficult for them. “We have stuff to do, meetings to go to; we’ve got better things to do than sit here.” It didn’t seem like the time or place to agree.
They then locked me in an interrogation room with a video camera. I sat there for what seemed like 90 to 120 minutes. That’s guesswork, however, as I didn’t have a watch or phone.
Eventually–as expected–they let me out: in the absence of evidence against me, no charges could be filed, and there was no legal basis to hold me. The police chief, Quatrone, gave me another lecture about my lack of cooperation. He repeated that he understood I had a right to remain silent but was disappointed I had exercised it, since my doing so had wasted a lot of time and manpower. He told me he had a responsibility to the people of Lodi, that he had fought in Iraq for their rights and mine. There was an awkward silence after that, so to break it, I finally said, “Well, hey–at least it’s over.” I fought a mild temptation to console him by patting him on the arm, but thought the better of it. He looked me and said, “We still don’t know what happened here,” implicitly suggesting that the investigation might continue. I then walked through the station to the car, and was driven back to campus.
On campus, I met once again with the VPAA in the company of the (then) head of Campus Security and the Dean of Arts & Sciences. We engaged in small talk for awhile; then I went home. To the best of my knowledge, neither my office, nor my car, nor my apartment were ever searched. (My office computer I’m less sure about.)
The following Monday, I met my classes and learned that my students had been questioned by the police during my detention. I’ve come to understand that the accusation against me came from a student in Phil 100A1, a Critical Thinking class that met on Mondays and Wednesdays at 11:25 am. I gather that this was the particular section that was questioned, though students from my other classes were also questioned. It’s not clear to me whether these students were forced to answer questions, or waived their rights and answered voluntarily (I got conflicting accounts from the students and the VPAA). It’s also unclear to me exactly what they said. I don’t know who my accuser was. I only know that the accuser came from this particular section.
Though I literally had no idea of the content of the accusation during my detention, I eventually formed an idea of what it must have been. (I didn’t bother to ask the police about the nature of the accusation against me: they had no obligation to be truthful about it, had a strong incentive to misrepresent it, and would likely use any information they gave me as a quid pro quo for information they wanted from me. If they wanted to bring a charge, they’d do so; if not, there was no point in asking. So I never asked, and was never told.)
My best guess is that the accusation was that I intended to shoot and kill the faculty at a faculty meeting that was to be held (and was held) at 1 pm on November 29. An alternative guess is that I had intended to shoot and kill the students in my Phil 100A1 class. A third guess is that I was accused of targeting both.
Throughout the semester, I had made known my displeasure at a University policy according to which the doors of all classrooms are locked in the event that a shooting should take place and a lock-down would be required. I pointed out several times to both students and faculty that the policy made no sense. If the shooter was outside the classroom, he could shoot his way in. If the shooter was inside the classroom, the deterrent effect of the locked doorknob would merely deter the police from entering. Most likely, the door would be left open, in which case the locked doorknob would have no effect. I pointed out that the locked door policy created considerable disruption during class, as students would come late to class and ask to be let in, one at a time, as class was in session. One would then be forced to walk over to the door to let them in each time.
I also pointed out that during faculty meetings, the door is left unlocked. If there really was such a worry about school shooting, what could be more dangerous than a gathering, behind an unlocked door, of the entire faculty? And even if the door was locked, what if the shooter was a member of the faculty? I pointed out that “profiles” are unreliable. There was no reason to make assumptions about who the shooter would be or where he could come from. He could be anyone. He could even be “you or me.” Though not officially “the topic” of the class, the comments struck me as fair game in a class on critical thinking, in the course of a unit on fallacies.
My best guess is that my accuser somehow turned these comments about hypothetical scenarios into an “active threat” I was supposed to have been making, either against the faculty or against the students themselves, or both. It’s not clear to me whether the student directly contacted the police, or told a parent who contacted the police. Nor is it clear whether the police knew the accuser’s identity or not. I was later told that the accusation was made by an “anonymous” complainant, but “anonymous” is ambiguous as between “completely unknown” and “known to the police, but confidential.”
On Monday, December 4, Dr. Anne Prisco, the President of the University, issued a statement about the event, as follows:
Dear Member of the Felician University Community,
Last Wednesday the Lodi Police were cited [sighted] on the campus. This has generated discussion and concern regarding what our protocols are regarding police activity and /or emergency situations. I want to reassure you that if there is ever any threat to any person or property at Felician, the protocol is to immediately notify and inform our community in 2 ways: via the e2Campus, Emergency Notification System (ENS), and via email from a member(s) of the University emergency response team. We take these matters seriously for our primary responsibilities are the safety and security of our students, faculty and staff.
We have a cooperative relationship with both the Lodi and Rutherford Police Departments. Police officers respond to and investigate a variety of complaints in a number of places, and in addition respond to numerous customer service requests to assist students, staff, faculty and visitors to our campus. While working in conjunction with our local police departments, we escort them when on campus; and when necessary, provide space (a private setting) to them to address their needs.
The Emergency Response Team evaluates all situations and determines the appropriate action. The Emergency Notification System, through e2campus, will be used to send notices to the campus community if there is an emergency or dangerous situation posing an immediate threat to health and safety.
On Tuesday, December 5, Prosecutor Gurbir Grewal, in the company of Assistant Prosecutor Elizabeth Rebein and Chief of Detectives Robert Anzilotti, visited Felician University for a previously scheduled talk to be given by the prosecutor on “Law Enforcement in Bergen County: Problems and Prospects.” I was the organizer of the event, which was attended by my students, along with other students in Criminal Justice and Psychology.
Prosecutor Grewal (now New Jersey’s Attorney General) is a personal friend of mine. I exchanged pleasantries with him, as well as with Rebein and Anzilotti. We elected not to discuss my detention. Though I assume that Grewal knew about the detention, he gave no indication of knowing. Indeed, we acted as though all was well, and that the detention had never happened. In perhaps the most ludicrous moment of the evening, Grewal introduced me to Anzilotti, saying, “You know Rob, right?” “We’ve met,” I said, and left it at that–deciding not to mention that the last time we’d met was when Rob had detained and interrogated me on suspicion of a threat to commit mass murder.
By some fortuitous irony, a student misinterpreted a remark I had made to Grewal during the Q&A of the event–as it happens, a remark about “Black Lives Matter”–treating what I’d said as a criticism of BLM (it wasn’t), and denouncing my supposed racial insensitivity for saying it. This criticism and misrepresentation, I’m gratified to say, were made in the hearing of the Prosecutor, his Assistant, his Chief of Detectives, the President of the University, the Vice President for Academic Affairs, the Dean of Arts and Sciences, the Associate Dean of Social and Behavioral Sciences, and an audience of about 60 students and faculty. I gave the student the last word, thanking her sincerely for her comments: I couldn’t have invented a better opportunity for misrepresenting me if I’d tried. I’d gone from left-wing cop-hating academic to would-be mass murderer to anti-BLM racist in one week–all without the slightest bit of effort on my part.
On Wednesday December 6, the University’s School of Arts and Sciences (A&S) held its periodic meeting. The VPAA attended the meeting, and in the course of recounting his version of events, made one startling revelation, suggesting that the Prosecutor’s Office (PO) had tangled with the Police Department (PD) over the identity of my accuser. The Police Department had told the University that the caller was “anonymous.” Apparently, when the PO had asked the PD about the caller’s identity, the PD had asserted that it didn’t know his or her identity, as it–the PD–“didn’t have caller ID.” The detective from the PO (most likely Anzilotti) then responded incredulously, “What do you mean, you don’t have caller ID?” A student with whom I’ve spoken about the matter tells me that she believes that the accuser was physically present in the Lodi Police Station: she claims to have overheard an officer talking to officers at the police station, asking about the whereabouts of the accuser: “So is she still there? Or has she left?” I have no way of verifying either the VPAA’s or the student’s claims. My own account of the event, as well as the VPAA’s, was recorded in the official minutes of the A&S meeting, which were released to A&S faculty last week.
For the record, I made no threat at any time, and had no threats to make. I had no plans to harm anyone, and do not own or have access to a firearm. The claims I made in class were purely hypothetical, intended to induce students to think critically about the policies we all dealt with every day.
Soon after the detention, I made contact with a prominent Newark-based defense attorney, Thomas Ashley, meeting with with him in person on December 8. (Mr. Ashley remains counsel of record in this matter.) My only contact with law enforcement since the event has been with Prosecutor (now Attorney General) Grewal. I thanked him for his talk at Felician, asking if he would help me with a police-related event I’d like to do next year, “Policing from a Cop’s Perspective.” He agreed, and made some suggestions to that end. Having discussed Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow at the event, Grewal suggested that I read John Pfaff’s book, Locked In for balance. A few weeks later, I congratulated him on his (then) being nominated Attorney General; he thanked me in turn for blogging about it. That was the last I heard from either of the relevant law enforcement agencies.
Depending on how one counts, this was my seventh serious interrogation by law enforcement–my first having taken place at the age of seven, on suspicion of aggravated assault. In a later post, I’d like to lay out some of the lessons I’ve learned about how to conduct oneself under police questioning–common hazards and pitfalls, along with things one should expect, and what to keep in mind along the way. As with all complex skills, it’s worth remembering that there is always room for improvement: practice makes perfect. (Moving violations aside, I’ve never been charged with, much less convicted of, a crime.)
In later posts, I’d also like to lay out some of the more interesting theoretical issues that occurred to me while I was detained–among them the equivocality of the concept of “law enforcement,” some problematic lacunae and confusions in constitutional criminal procedure, and what it’s like to suffer the so-called “chilling effect” after a police detention for a speech act. More soon.