Katherine Merisotis/The Bates Student
In an interview with The Bates Student, two students described the circumstances surrounding the recording of Lead Campus Safety Officer Dennis Skinner posted to Instagram earlier this month.
In the recording, Officer Skinner is heard discussing differential enforcement of white students and students of color by Campus Safety.
The video clip, taken on Feb. 14, is just over two minutes long on Instagram. However, the total length of the recording is more than six minute in length, and one student said the full conversation lasted for upwards of an hour.
This recording was posted the day after a first-year student was physically restrained by Campus Safety officers, one of whom was identified as Officer Skinner, on the night of March 5. Many students decried Campus Safety’s actions as an excessive use of force.
After the video was posted, Vice President for Campus Life and Dean of Students Joshua McIntosh notified students in an email that the officer in the video had been put on leave and that the college would hire an outside investigator to look into the incident and Campus Safety’s enforcement practices.
Of the two students interviewed for this article, one student participated in the entire conversation with Officer Skinner. The second, his roommate who recorded the video, was only present for part of the conversation. Both students witnessed the incident in Rand earlier this month.
The Student agreed not to publish the names of either student. They said they are “seeking a level of privacy in what has been a traumatic and hard-to-comprehend series of incidents.” The administration has met with both students and is aware of their identities.
A previous email sent by a member of Bates Human Resources informed The Student that Officer Skinner is not authorized to speak to students during the ongoing investigation and cannot respond to requests for comment.
The student who was present for the full conversation said Officer Skinner knocked on his door in Rand the night of Feb. 14 after purportedly receiving a noise complaint. The officer entered the room where six unmasked students were present. The student said a second officer stood nearby.
According to the student, Officer Skinner was wearing a Blue Lives Matter mask that night.
The Student obtained a photo of the mask Officer Skinner was wearing at the time, confirmed by both students interviewed. The screen shot is from a video recorded by the student’s roommate in late February. The mask — a neck gaiter — depicts a black and white, vertical flag. The students said there was a single off-color stripe to the side of the jaw.
In recent years, the thin blue line flag has widely been recognized as a symbol of the Blue Lives Matter movement.
The student, who is Muslim, said he wasn’t personally hurt by the Blue Lives Matter gear but was bothered that Bates Campus Safety officers would be wearing it while patrolling. The student said he confronted the officer about the symbol, hoping it would distract the officer from writing him up.
The other five students were told to leave, and the student and the two officers remained.
Officer Skinner began sharing his personal views on the issue, the student said. According to him, while the officer was saying “ignorant” things, the student told him they were “insightful.” He continued to agree with what the officer said, still aiming to avoid disciplinary action.
In total, the student said the conversation lasted approximately 15 minutes. At the end, the student said Officer Skinner seemed pleased with their talk, but he told the student he would still have to write him up.
Not long after, he returned to the student’s dorm room, alone.
According to the student, Officer Skinner told him he had two options, but only described one. The student said the officer told him that he could write him up, because he was breaking quarantine rules, and because he had lied to him about being the room’s occupant.
The student said he “lost his temper” at being confronted by the worst-case scenario of being written-up and sent home, so he brought the Blue Lives Matter topic up again and attacked him for wearing the mask.
“[Do] you know what that represents to somebody like me?” he recounted saying.
The student said the officer became defensive and denied it was a Blue Lives Matter symbol.
In total, the second conversation lasted near 45 minutes, the student said. His roommate returned to their room partway through and recorded more than six minutes of the discussion before his phone died.
The officer left and told the student he would write it up as “community engagement.” The student said he did not receive any disciplinary action from hosting the gathering.
The six-minute recording was cropped to create the two-minute video posted to the @batesstudentrights Instagram account.
The Bates Student obtained an email sent from Officer Skinner to the student the following evening; Director of Security Paul Menice was cc’d on the email. In this email, Officer Skinner acknowledged the divide between Campus Safety and students, and asked for advice on mending the relationship.
“As we discussed last night, there is a gap between students and Campus Safety. What ideas would you have to help assist in bridging the gap between us?” he asked. “As I stated last night, our department is willing to sit with you and any other student(s) that would be interested in talking about any issue that you feel needs to be addressed.”
The student responded hours later, encouraging Officer Skinner to reach out to student organizations such as the Black Student Union to initiate more dialogue.
“I would say letting students talk first is key, that way you can understand how they feel right away and explain your side in response,” the student wrote. “I know a lot of students of color feel misunderstood and silenced, and I think having a conversation like that would be super productive.”
Officer Skinner did not respond to his email. The student and his roommate said they didn’t intend to publicly post the video, even though they were concerned by what the officer had said. The student was grateful Officer Skinner hadn’t written him up.
They changed their minds after they witnessed their friend be restrained and handcuffed by Officer Skinner and a second unidentified officer. Later, their friend told them he had been tackled by Officer Skinner in the stairwell, and the students were worried the officer wouldn’t be disciplined for his actions.
“I’ve heard like all this stuff before so like it’s not, it’s not something that I really feel like upset about as much I just wanted to — my intentions behind posting this dialogue was to show the type of person that Dennis was, because I’m afraid there was no actual witnesses that saw it [the alleged tackling],” the student said.
In an interview last week with Senior Associate Dean of Students Carl Steidel and Director Menice, Dean Steidel said it would take several weeks for the investigation to conclude, and for the administration to announce the results to the community.