A court commissioner on Tuesday found probable cause to hold a Western Washington University student for investigation of malicious harassment for allegedly posting online threats against students of color.
BELLINGHAM — A court commissioner set bail at $10,000 for the Western Washington University student accused of posting threats against students of color on an anonymous messaging service.
Whatcom County Court Commissioner Martha Gross on Tuesday found probable cause to hold sophomore Tysen Campbell, 19, on investigation of first-degree malicious harassment, the state’s hate-crime statute. Campbell, who has not been charged, will be arraigned Dec. 11.
The investigation stems from an incident last week in which dozens of profanity-laced threats directed at WWU students of color were posted anonymously on apps and social-media websites.
The threats caused WWU President Bruce Shepard to take the unprecedented step of suspending classes on Nov. 24, the first time classes have ever been canceled at a state public college because of social-media postings.
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Gross told Campbell that first-degree malicious harassment can carry a term of up to five years in prison.
According to state law, malicious harassment is an attack motivated by a perception of someone’s race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, or disability, and results in physical injury, property damage or threats that would place a reasonable person in fear of harm.
According to WWU officials, Campbell, who is white, was arrested Monday in connection with a post on the location-based messaging app Yik Yak that read: “Let’s lynch her.” WWU officials believe it referred to Belina Seare, the student president, who is African American.
A pole vaulter on the school’s track team, Campbell has been suspended from WWU and barred from campus.
Gross barred Campbell from coming near or contacting Seare. Campbell’s attorney, Robert Butler, agreed to the order, but said Campbell would comply with the order although he doesn’t know who Seare is.
Campbell’s older brother, Morgan Campbell, was at the courthouse Tuesday to post bail.
“I don’t know what even happened,” he said. “It sounds like it was an honest mistake. He said something that shouldn’t have been said, and it spiraled out of control.”
Butler said bail would be posted immediately, and predicted Campbell would be home in time for dinner.
As of 6:15 p.m., his name did not appear on the Whatcom County Jail roster, presumably because he was released.
The anonymous social-media threats followed a suggestion in October, raised by student-government leaders, that the school rethink its mascot, a Viking, because it doesn’t represent all students.
Some of the threats were posted on Yik Yak, which is marketed to college students. Western campus police served a subpoena on Yik Yak, and that subpoena allegedly led them to Campbell.
In court, Campbell wore a green jail shirt and pants, and orange flip-flops. No family members were allowed inside the courtroom, which is inside the county jail, but they watched a video feed of the hearing at the courthouse. Campbell answered “yes” when Gross asked if he agreed to the stipulations of his release.
Butler would not comment to reporters about the allegations.
“We look forward to seeing the evidence. They haven’t written up anything yet,” he said.
Speaking of Campbell’s criminal record, Butler said, “My client doesn’t have so much as a speeding ticket.”
At the request of Butler, Gross modified a provision that would have required Campbell to stay in Whatcom County and agreed that he could go to his family’s home in Granite Falls.
The Seattle Times usually does not name suspects until they have been charged, but is doing so in this case because Western officials identified Campbell on Monday in a message sent through the school’s alert system and posted on its website.
WWU spokesman Paul Cocke said the arrest was a matter of public record, and that the school “made that decision in order to be as transparent as possible with the Western community, which has experienced considerable anxiety over the past week.”
He said Campbell’s safety was considered before the release of his name but would not elaborate.
In an interview Monday, Campbell’s mother, Lisa Concidine, said her son told her he made a post that was “sarcastic because he was annoyed by all of the uproar.” Campbell told his mother he deleted it right away.
In Granite Falls, Campbell was known at his high school as being respectful, “a good kid,” said Granite Falls High junior Chase Alt, 16.
“If you saw him walking down the halls, you would never assume he was anything but a nice guy,” Alt said.
Alt said he had never encountered any racial issues at the high school or in Granite Falls, which has a population of about 3,400.
“Friends joke around with friends, but you always know they’re joking,” he said.
Civil-rights leader Jesse Jackson, in Seattle Tuesday to discuss racial disproportionality in tech industry hirings, police brutality and other issues, said recent arrests tied to racial threats at WWU and the University of Chicago are indicative of a larger problem on American college campuses: an overall lack of inclusiveness.
“Colleges are in turmoil in part because you’re putting new wine in old wineskins,” Jackson said. “Universities were not meant for them — the symbols, the statues, the signage was not meant to include women and people of color.”
Beyond that, Jackson said, such racial threats need to be taken seriously immediately because of easy access to assault-type firearms in America that can lead to mass slayings.
“These military assault weapons have no place in the streets of our country,” he said. “… We must stop the killing machine, or the killing machine will stop us.”
The incident has caused much soul-searching on the Bellingham campus, a school better known for a laid-back atmosphere.
WWU President Shepard, who apologized to students, faculty and staff on Monday, has been criticized for his handling of the incident by the students who were threatened.
The case is playing out amid a backdrop of protests by black students over incidents of racism at universities across the country. Students say there’s a climate of racism at Western.
During a town-hall-style meeting on campus Monday, Shepard and several professors and staff acknowledged the school is struggling with racism and hasn’t done enough to try to stamp it out.