UVA Declines to Charge Student for False Racial Profiling Claim

Law student gets a pass for publishing fabricated police harassment incident

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In April, a University of Virgina third-year law student, Jonathan Perkins, wrote a letter to the editor of the Virgina Law Weekly where he described how he was harassed by university police while walking home one night, due to being African American. The account is long and richly detailed, complete with dialogue between him and the officers and descriptions of his thought process during the events. He concludes this account with the statement that:

I am writing this column because it is important for my classmates to hear a real-life anecdote illustrating the myth of equal protection under the law. Incidents like this one are not surprising to me. Sadly, I have even grown to expect them.

Naturally, Perkins' letter sparked discussion at a prestigious law school like UVA, and the Virginia Law Weekly ran a companion piece to the letter, in which a reporter interviewed members of the faculty and other students about the incident. But unfortunately for Perkins, perhaps his story sparked too much discussion -- leading to an investigation of the incident by University officials.

What they found out: the incident never actually occurred, as Perkins himself has now admitted. From the University press release, available at Above the Law:

“I wrote the article to bring attention to the topic of police misconduct,” he said in a written statement. “The events in the article did not occur.”

Though Perkins can consider himself within the ranks of Greg Mortenson and James Frey for the rest of his career, UVA apparently has no plans to charge him. There is no word yet on what disciplinary actions the law school might take, considering, as Above the Law notes, he was likely in violation of the school's honor code, not to mention the high ethical standards that law schools and the legal profession requires of its members. Frankly, based on the press release, the University doesn't even seem particular upset, with top officials mostly relieved that the racial profiling event itself did not occur:

“I am pleased that the student realized what he did was wrong and that he was willing to come forth to acknowledge his mistake,” said Leonard W. Sandridge, the University’s executive vice president and chief operating officer. “We were distressed when we learned of his allegations. We took them very seriously and launched an immediate investigation on his behalf.”

The reason the University provides for not pressing charges is as follows:

“I recognize that police misconduct does occur,” [Michael A. Gibson, University chief of police] said. “Pressing charges in this case might inhibit another individual who experiences real police misconduct from coming forward with a complaint. I want to send the message just how seriously we take such charges and that we will always investigate them with care and diligence.”

One wishes that Perkins would have had the same foresight and concern for other individuals who experience real police misconduct. Or perhaps his account, although false, is excusable in some estimations for the fact that there were no individual victims (other than Perkins himself, eventually) and his letter at least momentarily brought attention to racial profiling. Nonetheless, other UVA law students indicated to Above the Law that they are "disgusted" by the lengths Perkins would go to "to make a point."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.