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ECU denies lastest request for assault video

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By Seth Thomas Gulledge
The Daily Reflector

Saturday, February 10, 2018

East Carolina University has renewed its stance against releasing video of a 2016 campus assault, but court documents recently revealed more about the events that unfolded that night.

On March 17, five men and a woman chased Patrick Myrick onto ECU’s campus and began beating him after Myrick allegedly hit a woman outside of a downtown club. While the group was attacking Myrick, an ECU employee saw the incident through campus surveillance cameras and alerted ECU police.  

An injured Myrick was handcuffed after officers arrived and his attackers were allowed to leave. The group was later brought in by police and charged for the assault, and in November all pleaded guilty to misdemeanor of assault inflicting serious injury and received probation. Two of them also were ordered to spend two weekends in jail.

The ECU officer who was first to respond, Ralph Whitehurst, was dismissed for mishandling the situation. The state Court of Appeals this week upheld a ruling that East Carolina must reinstate Whitehurst, though the court ruled his actions as “unacceptable personal conduct.”

The ruling stated the appropriate action for Whitehurst would have been demotion. ECU said he will be reinstated at a later date.

The Daily Reflector and other news agencies and individuals petitioned the university, the District Attorney’s Office and police for release of the video record shortly after the incident, but all the agencies denied its release. ECU also denied followup requests after the November convictions in the case, citing a state law enacted in October 2016 to restrict access to video recorded by public cameras. 

The Reflector and others who requested the video contended the law did not apply to requests made prior to October 2016 and asked the video again. A response received this week from the university said the law does apply. The letter from university attorney Donna Payne also listed several other reasons ECU will not release the video.

Payne’s letter said initial requests were denied because the video was a “record of a criminal investigation.” The initial denial resolved those requests, the letter said. Subsequent requests after the criminal investigation concluded were considered new requests by the university and therefore fell under the new state law.

Additionally, the letter said, state personnel law forbids the release of records related to the “promotion, demotion, transfer, leave, salary, contract, for employment, benefits, suspension, performance evaluation, disciplinary action, [or] termination.” 

The federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act also forbids release of the video because it contains personally identifiable information about persons who were ECU students at the time, the letter said.

Payne said ECU respected and understood the importance of public records, but felt compelled by the law to withhold release of the video. 

“While it can be frustrating to be prohibited from disclosing conduct of persons who may no longer be students or employees, ECU must honor the law,” she said. 

The video was reviewed during appeals by Whitehurst against ECU, and the court documents present a narrative in part constructed from the video.

According to the documents, it shows the attack on Myrick had ended when Whitehurst arrived on the scene, which was “relatively calm.” The documents do not detail what occurred before Whitehurst arrived.

People involved in the assault were detaining Myrick by “sitting on top of him.” Findings presented to the court revealed Whitehurst had not been informed of the details of the attack and allowed the individuals to leave the scene. It “does not appear from the surveillance video that Whitehurst made an attempt to detain them,” documents said. 

Informed by individuals at the scene that Myrick had “assaulted a girl downtown,” Whitehurst asked Myrick what happened, and Myrick informed him he had been in a fight downtown. Whitehurst handcuffed Myrick, and “did not make an attempt to prevent any individuals from leaving the scene, nor did he ask them to stay so he could obtain a statement.” The documents say Whitehurst noticed “blood on Myrick’s face” and contacted emergency services.

Other officers arrived several minutes later, but almost all of the perpetrators and witnesses of the assault on Myrick had left the scene by then, the documents said. Whitehurst contends that he did not hear any of the radio calls about Myrick being the victim of an assault. 

Following the incident, former ECU Police Chief Gerald Lewis reviewed the security footage and was concerned that no one at the scene had been detained to give statements. He initiated a internal affairs investigation on March 18. On March 21 Whitehurst was informed that he was being placed on investigatory leave.

The internal affairs investigation determined that Whitehurst had violated three written work rules that required him to obtain information from all witnesses and suspects, to ensure an appropriate report was filed, and to document any instance when a private citizen detains another person. Chief Lewis dismissed Whitehurst from employment on April 19. 

Following his termination, Whitehurst followed ECU’s grievance procedure and a grievance hearing panel recommended that Whitehurst be demoted instead of dismissed, however, Chancellor Cecil Staton issued a final university decision upholding Lewis’ decision, documents said. 

Contact Seth Gulledge at sgulledge@reflector.com and 329-9579

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