Saturday, September 14

Aram Ghoogasian: UC Merced stabbings investigation must be made public


(Vivian Tong/Daily Bruin)

(Vivian Tong/Daily Bruin)


Almost two weeks after four people were stabbed in the early hours of the morning at the University of California’s youngest campus, questions remain about what exactly transpired.

The perpetrator of the UC Merced stabbings, a freshman at the university, was involved in a chase where he turned toward a university police officer and was shot dead. Other than this brief piece of information, we still don’t know under what exact circumstances the student, who was armed with an eight to 10 inch hunting knife, was fatally shot by law enforcement.

There could have been a perfectly legitimate reason for using lethal force and it’s likely there was. But the Merced County Sheriff’s Department, the party responsible for investigating the shooting, has yet to give the public a moment by moment account of what happened after officers arrived on the scene.

Not even UC Merced officials know how far along the investigation has progressed. James Leonard, a spokesperson for the university, said that there could be an announcement sometime this week, but added that the Merced County Sheriff’s Department has yet to give the school any official information directly. It’s far from a sure thing that we’ll get a report this week.

The sheriff’s department’s investigations division could not be reached for comment.

To eliminate any reasonable doubt that may surround university police’s actions, all available information about the violence at UC Merced should be made available to the general public as soon as possible. The general population, especially students at UC Merced, should be able to know what stage the investigation has arrived at thus far. They are owed transparency and must publicly demand it rather than dismiss the case because of its clear-cut circumstances.

Attempted murder should not be taken lightly or retroactively trivialized based on the status of the victims. But attempted murderers should not be summarily executed either, even if there is no doubt that they are guilty. A transparent investigation would clear up any suspicions that the police mishandled the case.

But the onus isn’t completely on the sheriff’s department. Because all of the victims fortunately survived the ordeal and the question of guilt has a clear, uncontroversial answer, the public seems to have all, but forgotten what occurred in UC Merced earlier this month. There has been no apparent call for the release of all relevant information pertaining to the shooting.

If this sort of selective memory prevails, the use of force by police could fly under the radar and potentially make it difficult for the public to hold law enforcement accountable, thus eliminating a key check on the power of the latter. It’s important to remain consistent, even if the person on the receiving end of a cop’s bullet is armed with a large knife and has a clear intent to kill.

Deferring the disclosure may be chalked up to the complications that the ongoing FBI and Department of Homeland Security investigation into the student’s motive for the attack could bring about. Although the federal government involvement is clearly cause for great concern, it shouldn’t interfere with the release of information by the sheriff’s department related to the shooting that ended the 15-minute spree and the attacker’s life.

If any party needs to be kept in the loop, it’s the students and administration at the school that had to deal with the attack. A UC Merced freshman attacked his fellow students and campus staff, but the university still hasn’t received official word about the ongoing investigation. Nearly two weeks is too long to wait.

It may be difficult for people close to the situation to call the death of someone who terrorized a college campus into question, but we cannot pick and choose when to be concerned with the transparency of law enforcement.

If we allow leeway in cases such as these, it may lead to more opacity in other cases when facts could be even more ambiguous. The public needs to be consistent in its demands for information and law enforcement must be consistent in its compliance with these demands.

At a time when the use of lethal force by police has come under increased scrutiny, even these cases need to be scrutinized. Effective and just policing depends on it.

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Opinion columnist

Aram Ghoogasian is an opinion columnist and a member of the Daily Bruin Editorial Board. He often opines about labor issues, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the University of California.


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