Five males involved in the fake parking ticket incident have been identified as students from Hardin-Simmons University.
The ACU Police Department said it had identified the five suspects on Tuesday. Later that day, they were identified to the public as HSU students in a statement released by HSU president Lanny Hall.
“These shameful actions do not reflect the values, attitudes or character of Hardin-Simmons University,” Hall said. “On behalf of HSU, I strongly denounce the actions and wholly reject both the racism expressed in the offensive messages and their sexually offensive nature.”
HSU’s Office of Student Life is investigating the incident, and disciplinary actions will be addressed through the student misconduct process, Hall said.
On March 18, 13 fake parking tickets were reported to have been placed on students’ cars. Eleven of the tickets had sexual innuendos and sexist statements written on them, and two tickets contained racially offensive comments.
The names of the five suspects have not been released to the public or to ACU administration and will not unless formal charges are filed, said ACU Police Chief Jimmy Ellison. If a victim decides to file a criminal charge, ACUPD would present a case to the district attorney for consideration of charges. The DA will determine what charges can be filed against the suspects.
Ellison said ACUPD made this case a top priority when it first occurred. Ellison said ACUPD spent an untold number of hours thoroughly investigating the case. They were able to isolate the incident on security film, but because it occurred at a far away distance at night, police were unable to identify faces or a license plate. They conducted numerous interviews with victims, witnesses and potential witnesses. They also knew the website where the tickets were printed from, so they attempted to see if any ACU accounts were used to access the website.
Ultimately, it was a combination of information gathered that led to the identification of the suspects.
“We are very grateful for different people who provided different aspects of information, and all of those things woven together led us to the five individuals that we identified,” Ellison said.
J Sheppard, senior IT major from Oklahoma City, Okla., was the recipient of one of the racially offensive tickets in a parking lot next to COBA. He reported the incident to Byron Martin, director of the Office of Multicultural Enrichment, who then alerted the administration.
“In the immediate days that followed, to me, it felt like the administration either wasn’t aware or wasn’t doing anything, but now that it’s come to light I feel they have taken the appropriate steps,” Sheppard said.
Dr. Allison Garrett, executive vice president of the university, said there was a delay in communication about the incident to the student body in order to not alert those responsible of the investigation.
“We had hoped we would quickly find out who did it.” Garrett said. “We wanted to preserve the integrity of the investigation.”
Sheppard said the real issue extends past this one incident.
“Just talking to alot of my peers, they feel that a lot of things are done for the white students that aren’t done for the nonwhite students – different funding, different marketing, just a different feel in general,” Sheppard said. “If you were to walk up to your average non-white student you wouldn’t be surprised if you heard that.”
Sheppard and other members of BSA and the OME have been meeting with ACU’s administration over the past two weeks, discussing this issue.
“We’re working as a university very hard to make sure we have conversations and to put processes in place to ensure all of our students feel welcome, feel heard and we have appropriate ways to deal with situations like that when they arise,” Garrett said.
Sheppard said he appreciates the meetings, but they won’t mean anything if they aren’t acted on.
“I was telling my dad that I was kind of scared that if, as bad as an incident as it was, if this hadn’t happened there wouldn’t be a real need for change on campus,” Sheppard said. “I hate that it happened but at least there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Becca Clay, ACU speech pathology grad student and Morris RA, heard some residents had received tickets that were sexist and derogatory toward women, but they didn’t speak up because they didn’t feel comfortable. Clay said it would be more embarrassing to report sexist comments targeted at a specific person because it could be about a personal quality, like how they dress. She said she thought that was why the tickets that were derogatory toward women weren’t reported or publicized.
“Where’s the group of people speaking out about sexism?” Clay said. “There aren’t many.”
Brooke Ray, freshman nursing major from Allen, received an offensive ticket in the Gardner parking lot but chose not to report it.
“I really didn’t think it was that big of a deal,” Ray said. “The things that were said on the ticket were definitely rude and uncomfortable, but I just thought some college students got bored and thought it was a joke. I didn’t take offense to it.”
Ray said she was surprised at how much attention the parking tickets received and felt it was unwarranted.
“I feel sorry for whoever did it,” Ray said. “What they did was wrong, but I really don’t think they meant this any harm. I think if they knew how big it would get and how many feelings it would hurt and if they would’ve known it was a crime – I don’t think they would’ve done it.”
Even though this incident isn’t a reflection of the university, Garrett said, it will be taken seriously and the university will continue to work with students to address this serious issue.
“I know a lot of people are out for blood, I don’t think their response is wrong,” Sheppard said. “But for me, I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary to see that. As long as there is some backing from the university and something that reiterates to the student body that this won’t be accepted on campus, I’d be ultimately fine with that.”