Cynthia Posey

Photo Credit: Caleb Kuntz | Daily Texan Staff

APD and UTPD officers both received calls from someone who said she witnessed a woman being forced into a black pickup truck Tuesday morning, and, though UTPD officers are investigating, no missing person has been identified thus far.

According to Veneza Bremner, APD public information officer, APD officers received a call between 1 and 2 a.m. Tuesday night from a woman who said she had viewed a suspicious incident at the intersection of 25th and San Antonio streets. APD officers went to the scene but did not find evidence that a crime had occurred.

“Officers responded to the call, but they weren’t able to locate a car or anything in the area,” APD commander David Mahoney said. “If it’s not there, there’s really nothing to go on. They weren’t able to find anything to follow up with.”

Roughly eight hours later, the same woman, who asked police to protect her anonymity, called UTPD and elaborated on the incident she claimed to have witnessed. According to UTPD spokeswoman Cynthia Posey, the caller said she thought she saw a woman being forced into the pickup truck by two men around 1 a.m. Posey said the caller was unable to elaborate on the woman’s appearance.

Lt. Charles Bonnet, who supervises UTPD’s criminal investigation unit, said the new details the woman provided were enough to convince UTPD to contact APD and open a full investigation.

“All I can tell you is that a student was concerned enough to call UTPD, and we owe it to our students to fully investigate the matter — just to make sure there’s nothing going on,” Bonnet said. “We have open lines of communication with APD, and the information they had last night was less than what we got today from the caller.”

Bonnet said the case still offered many unanswered questions, and the legitimacy of the reports has yet to be determined.

“There’s no proof that a crime occurred, but there is a suspicious act that was reported,” Bonnet said. “We don’t know what this was. It could have been a criminal violation, or it could have been something as simple as students pulling a prank. There’s just no telling.”

According to Bonnet, UTPD’s investigation has included checking for surveillance camera footage at the intersection, though he declined to say whether these attempts were successful.

“We’re going through other investigatory steps, trying to see if there’s video in the area,” Bonnet said. “The next best thing beyond that is to try and get any witnesses. Hopefully, someone saw what was going on or was actually involved themselves — and can tell us, ‘hey, that was me, it was no big deal.’”

There is a University Federal Credit Union ATM near the intersection. A representative from the Credit Union said most of the company’s ATM do have cameras, but said she could not confirm this particular ATM had footage.

Posey said UTPD emailed subscribers to its CampusWatch email list in order to gather more information about the incident.

“The reason we put it out there was so we could get more information,” Posey said. “We’ve done everything within our power to investigate this; we’ve been working on it all day.”

Bonnet said he did not want to hypothesize on whether the event was related to the power outages that affected large areas of West Campus for roughly half an hour, which began a few minutes after midnight Tuesday morning. 

“I couldn’t speculate about that,” Bonnet said. “The information we have is so minimal right now that it’s hard for us to say what exactly this did have to deal with.”

If you have information about this incident, please contact UTPD at 512-471-4441 and ask to speak to the Criminal Investigations Unit.

Additional reporting by Julia Brouillette

Photo Credit: Helen Fernandez | Daily Texan Staff

The impending closing of the on-campus branch of the U.S. Postal Service in February 2014 comes in part from the University’s desire to use the space the office occupies for other mailing-related purposes. 

“The University is planning on using the space our office currently operates out of for something else,” Postal Service spokesman Sam Bolen said. “Though we must vacate the current offices by the end of February, we are looking into staying in or around campus for the office’s relocation.” 

University Operations spokeswoman Cindy Posey said the offices were notified of the Postal Service’s desire to close the on-campus location, located in the West Mall Office Building, once their contract initially expired on Sept. 1.

“University Operations worked with USPS to extend their lease through February 2014 to give both parties time to work out the details of this closure,” Posey said. 

Gabrielle Ramirez, geology junior and frequent customer of the on-campus branch, said she was surprised the facility was facing closure, because historically she has always found it filled with customers. 

“I go to the campus post office religiously when I have to mail off scholarship or internship applications,” Ramirez said. “Since I live in Riverside I usually head over to the post office between classes. Every time I go there’s a long line of students checking their PO boxes and dropping off items to be mailed.” 

Though the Postal Service posted a $740 million quarterly loss in August, Bolen said the decision to relocate the office was not made for financial reasons. 

Bolen, said the retail office — which is maintained by two full-time desk clerks — is constantly busy but was unable to comment on specific shipping volumes the branch deals with. 

“The operating costs specific to the on-campus office is outweighed by its revenue, making the location fiscally stable,” Bolen said.

While the Postal Service will use the six-month lease extension to seek out relocation options, University officials said they look forward to using the time to flesh out an improved campus mailing service.  

“We want to use the time granted during the lease extension to analyze mailing needs throughout campus to provide the best possible service,” Posey said. “We’re excited about the opportunity for improvement.”

In the wake of the recent outcry surrounding the NSA’s constitutionally questionable surveillance activities, UTPD revealed its own policy of ID surveillance. According to UTPD spokeswoman Rhonda Weldon, UT Information Technology Services logs whenever a student or staff member swipes their UT ID to enter ID-protected on-campus buildings such as residence halls  and research science buildings.  That information is stored and accessible to UTPD without a warrant for 30 days. This system has been put into practice on numerous occasions, “for life-safety events and criminal investigations,” according to UTPD spokeswoman Cynthia Posey.

Because of current legal precedent, UTPD’s access to the data does not require a warrant, said Robert Chesney, associate dean for academic affairs of the UT Law School. The problem is, legal concerns don’t always address ethical ones. Just because a policy falls in line with the law doesn’t mean it is necessarily ethical or just. While UTPD’s prying comes nowhere close to the appalling transgressions of the NSA’s civil liberties breach, UTPD’s actions still raise ethical questions.

UT students and faculty have an inherent right to privacy, as do all citizens. It is a necessary, deserved privilege that maintains the people’s autonomy from the government, a necessary and just feature of all free societies. When an individual’s privacy jeopardizes the safety of other students and staff members on campus, then UTPD has a strong case for monitoring that person’s whereabouts. Warranted monitoring of such individuals, provided reasonable suspicion, is an ethical and just system that allows for regulation and oversight. The unregulated violation of privacy rights, however, calls for public scrutiny, even if it is technically legal.

While ID tracking is no doubt useful for preserving campus safety, UT philosophy professor Mark Sainsbury commented on the startling lack of oversight. 

“If there was a theft, with some indication of when it occurred, it seems reasonable to me that the police should be able to know who was in the building during that time,” Sainsbury said. “On the other hand, one might get a little worried if the University used the information to find out which students were participating in a meeting designed to organize a demonstration against some University policy.” 

Without policy oversight, UT student and faculty rights to privacy are jeopardized.

In a recent article in the Texan, Chesney said, “We’re talking about the information that’s being gathered because you were using UT-issued IDs to access UT property with permission from UT.” 

Chesney’s comments address the policy’s legality but fail to justify it ethically. UT's policy forces students to accept the fact that attending a world-class institution like UT may require the relinquishing of a basic right, privacy. This is a choice we as students should refuse to make. It is reprehensible and unethical. The right to education should not be mutually exclusive with the right to privacy.

Posey has stated that the University is reviewing these policies and considering requiring a subpoena to access the building access data. It would be beneficial for the University to choose to take that responsible and ethical step.

Organizations like the NSA and UTPD exist for our protection. When their actions fall outside the bounds of legality, outrage and reform undoubtedly follow. But when legal precedent and ethics don’t quite align, critical conversation and pointed questions must work to close the gap. 

Breland is a Plan II and philosophy senior from Houston. Follow Breland on Twitter @alibreland. McClure is a returning Plan II student who will resume her studies in the spring.

Editor's Note: A previous version of this article stated that law professor Robert Chesney argued in favor of UTPD's ID surveillance policy. Changes have been made to clarify that Chesney expressed no opinion to the columnist regarding UTPD's policy. 

Austin police have no new information regarding West Campus sexual assault

Officials at the Austin Police Department said the department has not received any new information regarding the kidnapping and sexual assault of a UT student in the West Campus area early Monday morning.

According to an APD press release on Tuesday, the female was approached from behind by at least two unidentified males who forced her to the ground, blindfolded her, placed her in a vehicle and sexually assaulted her. The victim was taken to an unknown location and was released at approximately 6 a.m. near the 2200 block of Stephen F. Austin Blvd. On Tuesday, UT-Austin sent out a safety alert email, confirming the victim was a UT student.

At approximately 3 p.m. July 2, a campus-wide safety alert stating that the University would receive media attention for the incident was mistakenly sent out. According to UTPD spokesperson Cynthia Posey, that message was meant for campus leadership.

Our intent was to send two messages: One to leadership only, and one to the campus,” Posey said in an email. “The message intended for leadership, because of an email system error, was sent to the entire campus (including leadership).”

Posey said the message intended for the campus community was sent and delivered to the intended audience as planned. 

APD detectives are seeking public assistance in identifying the as yet unknown suspects who assaulted a UT student near the 900 block of West 26th street.

Senior officer Jermaine Kilgore, an APD public information officer, said he cannot remember the last time a similar incident occurred in the West Campus area.

“I don't know the exact number,” Kilgore said about sexual crimes in the area. “There hasn't been many. [Monday's] sexual assault is definitely an isolated incident.”

Anyone with more information about the incident is asked to call the APD Sex Crimes Unit at (512)-974-5095 or Crime Stoppers at (512)-472-TIPS. The public can also text information by typing “Tips 103” before their message and sending it to C R I M E S.  

UTPD returns to normal operations following bomb threat

UTPD will continue to investigate the source of Wednesday's non-specific bomb threat but will decrease law enforcement presence on campus.

In a campus-wide statement, UT spokeswoman Cindy Posey said UTPD feels “comfortable ... returning to normal operations at this time.”

On Wednesday April 10 at approximately 6 p.m., a non-specific bomb threat was made to the University by an anonymous individual. UTPD boosted its presence on campus, monitoring buildings for 24 hours and responded to suspicious activity and object reports. No buildings were evacuated.

In the statement, Posey asks the public to be wary of unusual practices and objects and said any suspicious activity should be reported to UTPD at 512-471-4441.  

The Pflugerville Independent School District will offer insurance benefits to same-sex and heterosexual domestic partners, benefits which UT-Austin employees are not eligible for.

A staff insurance committee in the school district made the recommendation to offer domestic partner benefits, school district spokesperson Amanda Brim said. Employees can begin enrolling in the program the week of Oct. 15, and the program goes into effect Jan. 1, 2013. Possible requirements to qualify as a domestic partnership include providing proof of a joint lease, a joint mortgage or the joint ownership of a vehicle.

Charles Dupre, superintendent of Pflugerville Independent School District, said providing an avenue for increased insurance coverage is in the best interest of employees and the district.

“In Pflugerville we recognize that families come in all shapes and sizes,” Dupre said. “We value all our staff members, and we want them to be able to care for their families.”

UT spokesperson Cynthia Posey said according to Chapter 1601 of the Texas Insurance Code, an employee is eligible for employee group insurance benefits only if the person related to the employee is a dependent. She said a “dependent,” as defined by the code, only includes a child or a “spouse” of an employee eligible for benefits, with a spouse being narrowly defined as a marriage between a man and a woman.

“Same and opposite-sex domestic partners are ineligible for benefits because, by definition, a ‘domestic partnership’ is something other than a marriage and thus does not meet the statutory definition of ‘spouse,’” Posey said.

Unless state law is changed, the University is prohibited from offering dependent benefits based upon either same-sex or opposite-sex domestic partnerships.

Government senior Robert Nunez said he believes the school district’s decision to extend benefits to domestic partners is a welcoming one. Nunez, who is also a member of Delta Lambda Phi, a fraternity for gay, bisexual and progressive men, said this step illustrates that decisions by political leaders should be based on the interests of all people and not solely on the basis of public opinion or ideology.

“I hope this will encourage other institutions of education, businesses and governments to extend rights and benefits to all regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression,” Nunez said. “We must always remember to include all people when making vital decisions in society.”

Printed on Wednesday, October 10, 2012 as: Pflugerville to allow same-sex benefits

The UT System Board of Regents will now require all student employees at UT to go through a criminal background check, according to an email sent to the Human Resources Department last week.

The departments that hire student employees will cover the cost of background checks, University Operations spokeswoman Cynthia Posey said.

UT has between 7,000 and 10,000 student employees, and the process will cost $4 for every person who has not gone through a criminal background check, she said.

“When you’re talking about a mass number, because we hire a lot of people, it can add up,” Posey said.

The College of Liberal Arts alone has 21 departments and 20 research centers. Each department hires about five student employees, so the cost impact could be huge, but right now the amount of that impact is far from clear, said Gail Davis, director of human resources for the college.

According to the email, students who take a year off between jobs at the University will have to go through a background check again even if they have done so in the past.

“These things are very common,” said Daniel Sharphorn, associate vice chancellor and deputy general counsel for the UT System. “Among different institutions there are some variances.”

UT-Dallas and UT-San Antonio have been conducting employee background checks for faculty and students for many years. Sharphorn said the process is not perfect, but it does help identify criminals and people who could be dangerous to faculty and students.

“The goal is to make students and staff as safe as possible,” Sharphorn said.

After 9/11, students and faculty have become prime targets for criminal background checks, said Jeffery Graves, associate vice president for legal affairs.

“We are very conscious in how we do them,” Graves said.

The Human Resource Department looks for convictions, not arrests, job-relatedness and severity, he said. If a person has a been convicted for driving under the influence, he or she will most likely not get a job that requires driving, Graves said. He added the same person can most likely get a job in a different department.

“If somebody is a sex offender, we certainly don’t want them working in the Child Development Center,” he said.

He added that the cost of the process spreads finely across the departments. Even if one department has 200 employees, it won’t be more than about $1,000, Graves said.

“It’s not going to have a large impact,” he said.

English junior Kendra Loftice, who works at Services for Students with Disabilities, said she doesn’t think conducting employee background checks will create problems.

“It’s just to make sure you don’t have a criminal record where it would affect those who are working around you,” she said.