UPDATE: Two MU students arrested, suspended after cotton ball incident

Wednesday, March 3, 2010 | 9:00 p.m. CST; updated 10:50 p.m. CST, Wednesday, March 3, 2010
Zachary Tucker, left, and Sean Fitzgerald were arrested Tuesday night on suspicion of second-degree tampering.

COLUMBIA — The university acknowledged that it took action more swiftly than normal Wednesday in temporarily suspending two MU students who were arrested in connection with the scattering of cotton balls at the Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center.

University officials didn't deviate from their normal procedure other than to make the decision to suspend both students quickly out of "concern for the safety of the entire university family," said Mary Jo Banken, executive director of the MU News Bureau.

Anti-hate observance

The Black Culture Center will host an Anti-Hate Observance from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Thursday. The event will begin outside the BCC and proceed as follows:

  • 6:30 to 6:45 p.m. — Glow stick hand-out.
  • 6:50 p.m. — Relocation to either Speaker's Circle or Jesse Hall.
  • 7 p.m. — Opening statement.
  • 7:05 p.m.— Performance of Black National Anthem and "A Change Gon’ Come."
  • 7:15 p.m.— Candle procession: leaders of different organizations will light candles in honor of different values.
  • 7:30 to 8 p.m. — Moment of silence and closing statements.

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Freshman political science major Sean Fitzgerald, 19, and senior psychology major Zachary Tucker, 21, were temporarily suspended Wednesday pending the result of the university conduct process, according to a statement released and e-mailed to students, faculty and staff by MU Chancellor Brady Deaton.

An anonymous tip led to their arrest Tuesday night on suspicion of tampering in the second degree. MU Police said the incident was classified as a hate crime, which makes it a Class D Felony instead of a Class A misdemeanor.

Commander Michael Waldhauser said Fitzgerald and Tucker were members of Navy ROTC. Both are on "interim leave of absence" pending investigation, according to a Navy ROTC news release. If they are removed from the university, the release stated, they will be removed from the program.

Both students were midshipmen, and Waldhauser said they had been in the program throughout their time at MU. Waldhauser explained that midshipmen take a course together and interact on a regular basis through other structured events such as physical training. But he said he didn't know if Tucker and Fitzgerald were friends.

Reaction on campus to the news of the arrests was cautiously optimistic. Black Culture Center Director Nathan Stephens said he had confidence that MU Police followed leads and tips in the proper manner.

"We have to understand law enforcement doesn't arbitrarily arrest someone," Stephens said. "We have to trust the arrest was the result of a rigorous process."

Stephens said Monday's town hall meeting, where the university's values were discussed, was more beneficial in helping the campus community.

"Even if the arrests didn't happen, Monday went a long way to help us move past this," Stephens said.

Gabriel Bump, a freshman, said he had mixed feelings about the arrests. He was happy the incident brought awareness to racial problems, but he wants MU to act on the promises it made.

"I don't want them to act like it's a victory," Bump said. "There are deeper issues at hand than two individuals acting stupidly."

Missouri Students Association President Tim Noce said the arrests showed that MU Police had been working hard on the case.

"When I heard about (the arrests), I breathed a little bit easier," Noce said. "It made me feel that there was some direct justice."

"When a bad event does happen, you not only need to press forward but believe the right thing will eventually happen," Noce added.

He said there was no question that it was a hate crime and agreed with the charge.

"I'm not sure whether it was done as a joke or with malice," Noce said. "Regardless of that, it had a racial intent to it."

Freshman Michael Simpkins said he was thrilled arrests were made and would like to see those responsible expelled because their actions affected a lot of students.

"Hopefully, we won't see something like that on campus again," Simpkins said.

Fitzgerald lived on campus; Tucker lived off campus. Both were booked into the Boone County Jail and released Wednesday on $4,500 bonds each.

Missourian reporters Victoria Guida, Elisa Essner, Rachel Post and Bryan Richardson contributed to this report.

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Steven Smith March 4, 2010 | 12:21 a.m.

I see you all have taken down where these guys lived. That is noble of you all.

(Report Comment)
Jo Lena Johnson March 4, 2010 | 3:31 a.m.

While I agree that the extra details about the students' addresses was not necessary, I think we are missing the point. Why are people so "dismayed" by the Missourian sharing that but, not as "vocal" about whatever it was that lead these two young men to behave so poorly?

As a Dec 1992 graduate of MU, I'm sickened that these types of incidents continue to occur - on that and other campuses around the country. It's time for a change - changing the moral compass and raising the expectations and standards of behavior for all. This includes the students, parents, administrators and leaders.

This incident was clearly premeditated and dumb - and they knew better. Now, what are WE going to do so that all students on campus learn true lessons of inclusion, diversity and acceptance? If we don't groom them now, guess who's going to be managing and leading our workforce soon and very soon?

I was a student-activist while on campus, and I'd like to consider myself pretty active now - I'm just ready for things to Really change - and I challenge everyone reading to do something in your own life to rise above the low expectations and Be Bigger.

My mission is to put more good in the universe. Are you willing to join?

(Report Comment)
Jake Sherlock March 4, 2010 | 8:39 a.m.

Mr. Smith,

Two points of clarification:

We didn't take anything down. The general description of where the suspects live is still in the earlier report:

Second, I don't think it's quite accurate to say we published where they live. We gave a very general description, not an exact address.

Jake Sherlock
Opinion editor

(Report Comment)
Scott Lauher March 4, 2010 | 12:43 p.m.

It seems as if the majority of the people quoted in this article believe our criminal justice system is set up as "guilty until proven innocent" as opposed to what it actually is..."innocent until proven guilty."

(Report Comment)

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