WSU responds to Robert Barber's filing in Whitman County Superior Court, refuting his claim of procedural violations and alleging that Barber had a history of violent behavior.
Washington State on Thursday defended its decision to suspend football player Robert Barber, revealing a previously unreported arrested that the university’s attorney general said contributed to a pattern of violent behavior by the senior defensive lineman.
Barber’s suspension through July 2017 stemmed from a July arrest in connection with an off-campus fight. But Thursday’s filing by WSU in response to Barber’s Superior Court petition to have his suspension overturned included a police report of a March incident in which Barber was cited for harassment after he threatened an off-duty police officer and yelled “racially charged expletives,” WSU’s Senior Assistant Attorney General Danielle Hess stated in the university’s filing.
Hess stated that the university’s decision to suspend Barber, a fifth-year senior defensive lineman on the WSU football team, was based in part on “public, health, safety or welfare grounds” and claimed that Barber was a threat to the community.
According to Pullman Police Department reports of the March 2015 incident, Barber got angry after he saw a friend being arrested for disorderly conduct – this friend had thrown a piece of beef jerky at a moving car – and he hit the side of a nearby car with his hand and yelled expletives at a passerby who was an off-duty police officer.
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According to the report, the off-duty police officer, Riley Myklebust, informed Barber that he was a cop and could have him arrested. Thereafter, Barber pointed at him and said he was going to “take care of (him) when the cops left and ‘beat (his) ass.’ ”
Myklebust reportedly told police officers at the scene that he had been threatened and Barber was arrested and cited for harassment.
The university contended that Barber’s citation for harassment, combined with the party fight from July, in which Barber admitted to the conduct board he punched the complainant in the head twice, showed Barber “poses an ongoing threat to the safety of other WSU students.”
“Furthermore, the university would face significant liability exposure if it did not take action to protect the university community, given its knowledge of Mr. Barber’s conduct,” Hess wrote.
Barber’s attorney, Stephen Graham, said Thursday night that he took issue with WSU’s claim that his client is a threat to the university.
“It’s a little inconsistent for the school to be arguing that Mr. Barber is a threat to public safety when it’s the school that said they would welcome him back with open arms, just not till 2017,” Graham said. “Also, the school has procedures for suspending people immediately on an interim basis, within 48 hours, if they perceive them to be a true threat. And they never sought such an interim suspension.”
WSU spokesperson Rob Strenge said in an email Friday morning, “We don’t comment on pending litigation. Out of respect for the process and the student, we’ll argue this case in the court and not the media.”
The university refuted Barber’s allegation that procedural violations occurred during his conduct board hearing when the board did not read all the questions he presented to them and did not preserve the questions for the record.”
Based on a declaration by Director of Student Conduct Adam Jussel, the university claims the conduct board read all questions suggested by Barber and his adviser, Director of Football Operations Antonio Huffman. Hess also suggested that because Barber did not mention any procedural violations in the appeal he filed with the University Appeals Board, the superior court should decline to address that issue now.
“I’m not sure how Mr. Jussel can claim to have such good recollection of this matter. These questions are between the complainant and the chair, and Mr. Barber and the chair. That’s why we have records and legal proceedings, so there’s no argument afterward,” Graham said. “That’s why everything is preserved and file stamped and kept for further review. Because these matters should be taken more seriously than to discard legal records willy-nilly, as WSU has a tendency to do.
The university also rejected Barber’s claim that he was subjected to bias when he went before the conduct board, saying that the comment Barber took objection to – in which a conduct board member joked that he belonged in a holding cell – was taken out of context.
“Because of the seriousness of Mr. Barber’s violations, allowing him to return to WSU could cause significant harm to the WSU community and pose a threat to other students,” Hess wrote, adding that Barber’s suspension expires July 2017 and that the university “is committed to helping him finish his degree.”
“Although his degree will be postponed, he will not suffer irreparable harm. Thus Mr. Barber’s motion for stay should be denied,” Hess concluded.
According to the university’s filing, five WSU students have faced student conduct charges as a result of the July 23 fight. T.J. Fehoko, a second WSU defensive lineman, was also expelled and has appealed his expulsion.
Another WSU student, Pedro Diaz, whom police cited for misdemeanor assault, told The Inlander this week that he was suspended for a year by the conduct board.
In a news conference on Monday, Diane Narasaki, the King County chair of the Asian Pacific Islander Coalition, noted that another student who was involved in the fight had gone before the conduct board and was sanctioned with probation.
In its response filing, WSU said the conduct-board sanctions against the five students from the fight varied in severity “depending on the injuries they inflicted on others, the level and nature of their involvement in the altercation, and their past contacts with the Office of Student Conduct.”