UCLA potentially unfairly pursues misconduct allegations against Hill resident
Alethea Sung-Miller, a third-year electrical engineering student, claims she was the victim of an alleged assault in Delta Terrace. She fears UCLA is casting her as the assailant in the incident and unfairly threatening her student status, she said. (James Schaap/Daily Bruin)
Aug. 25, 2019 11:34 p.m.
This post was updated Sept. 24 at 1:57 p.m.
UCLA pursued student misconduct allegations against an alleged victim of an on-campus assault during a student conduct meeting Friday.
The closed door meeting in Murphy Hall gave Alethea Sung-Miller, a third-year electrical engineering student, the opportunity to defend herself against claims she violated the student conduct code during a May 10 incident with her former roommate.
However, Sung-Miller says she fears that the UCLA Office of Student Conduct is unfairly threatening her student status and casting her as the assailant after reporting her former roommate allegedly assaulted her. She said she hopes her story can alert students of how the student conduct code can be turned on them.
“The biggest reason I want to get the story out there is so other students can see what’s happening … and understand what the dangers are and what the university can do to them,” she said.
UCLA officials named by the sources in this article could not be reached for comment. Applicable privacy laws and policies prevent UCLA from discussing specific details of this incident and the students involved, said UCLA spokesperson Ricardo Vazquez in an email statement.
Sung-Miller maintains her former roommate assaulted her and damaged some of her property in their Delta Terrace dorm room May 10.
In an Aug. 13 letter to Sung-Miller obtained by the Daily Bruin, assistant dean Hilary Crocker informed her of allegations that she grabbed her former roommate’s wrist, punched her in the chin and made a false police report to UCPD.
If these accusations are true, Sung-Miller would be in violation of the student conduct code which prohibits behavior that is dishonest and behavior that threatens the health or safety of others, the letter read. Such a conclusion could threaten her status as a student and potentially lead to expulsion.
Zak Fisher, president of the Graduate Students Association and a law student, said he volunteered to attend the student conduct meeting with Crocker as a campus advocate for Sung-Miller and to ensure there was due process. He came away from the meeting feeling the process was disturbing and unfair, he said.
“Not only do they not have the presumption of innocence, the assumption is you’re going to plead guilty at one point or another,” Fisher said.
Fisher said Crocker seemed to lack a complete understanding of the student conduct code and had a difficult time articulating why Sung-Miller was being accused of dishonesty when Sung-Miller asked.
Keith Fink, a lawyer advising Sung-Miller, was also present at the meeting. Fink said he felt Crocker was arbitrarily using the student conduct code to coax Sung-Miller into admitting guilt.
“The purpose of this meeting is to coax students into taking the easy way out,” Fink said. “This is an intimidating process. Most students can’t lawyer up.”
Fink said these hearings are not structured like legal proceedings. He said Crocker never gave an explanation of the charges against Sung-Miller or provided the evidence they had against her.
For example, Crocker refused to seek out a recording that the former roommate allegedly made of the incident because it was illegally recorded without Sung-Miller’s consent, Fink and Fisher said. They both said the recording could clear up the situation and that there was no rational basis for rejecting that evidence.
“We have untrained people investigating,” Fink said. “You have an element of arrogance by the administrators who think that they’re above the law, and UCLA makes up rules and twists rules for whatever their agenda is.”
UCLA dean of students and Crocker’s superior Maria Blandizzi did not respond to a request for comment.
The May 10 Incident
Sung-Miller said she was in the process of moving to a different dorm room and on the phone with her parents, Ellen Sung and David Miller, just before the alleged attack began.
“She screamed with the most terrifying scream I’ve ever heard from anybody else outside of a horror movie,” Miller said. “And then what I heard was either ‘You’re assaulting me’ or ‘Stop assaulting me.’”
Sung-Miller said her former roommate damaged and threw some of her property at her including a packed suitcase, leaving her with 15 to 20 bruises and a fractured finger.
She said she called 911 during the alleged attack after getting disconnected from her parents. Residential Life staff and the police arrived shortly after to mediate the situation, Sung-Miller said.
She said her relationship with her former roommate initially deteriorated prior to the attack because her roommate was insensitive of Sung-Miller’s constant migraines.
A different series of events is described in partially redacted, internal incident reports from the dean of students that were obtained by the Bruin.
Their resident assistant was told by the former roommate that Sung-Miller called the police during an argument and falsely reported an attack to incriminate her, according to one incident report.
The former roommate admitted to detective Bell that she crushed a pine cone and tore up paper lanterns belonging to Sung-Miller in the course of the argument, but also alleges Sung-Miller grabbed her wrist and punched her chin, according to the incident summary from Bell.
“I never tried clocking her or punching her or anything,” Sung-Miller said. “When she was tearing apart my belongings, I did try to hold her wrist by the coat to try and keep her from tearing them apart.”
After the Incident
Sung-Miller said her residential assistant took her former roommate’s account of the incident, but refused to hear her side of the story. She said no one from Residential Life ever interviewed her.
Residential Life assistant director of leadership and involvement Josh O’Connor and area coordinator Jordan Richman responded to the scene. Sung-Miller said she felt they were unconcerned with her well-being and rushed her to move out.
“(O’Connor) went into the hallway and started showing new pictures of his new puppy to (Richman),” Sung-Miller said. “And I was like crying and shaking and they told me I had to carry all my stuff myself.”
Sung-Miller and her parents met with Suzanne Seplow, the executive director of residential and student life, to complain about her subordinates in Residential Life and demand the former roommate be removed from the Hill, Miller said. He claims Seplow instead threatened to revoke Sung-Miller’s ability to live in the on-campus dorms.
Kirk White, associate director of residential education, suggested to Jasmine Rush, associate dean and director of the Office of Student Conduct, that Sung-Miller was technically ineligible for on-campus housing because she was not enrolled during spring quarter, according to a partially redacted May 13 email correspondence that was compiled by the dean of students office.
“We are under no obligation to house her and in fact, allowing her to live here is a potential legal concern because she struck another student,” White said in the email.
Though Sung-Miller was not actually enrolled that quarter, she said she previously received an exception to stay on the Hill because she was receiving medical treatment at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center and wished to fulfill her housing contract.
Sung-Miller and her parents said they met with Blandizzi on May 22 to request she remove the allegedly violent former roommate from campus. Miller said he cited a 2018 judicial case which implies the UC had a responsibility for student safety in on-campus environments.
Miller alleged Blandizzi did not take responsibility for potential criminal acts committed in the on-campus dorms.
“She did say explicitly, ‘We have no responsibility to care for the safety of my students in the dormitory room,’” Miller said.
Seplow and Blandizzi’s offices did not respond to a request for comment. Vazquez said UCLA could not comment on this situation.
Sung-Miller said she fears this process may be too debilitating for her to finish her last years at UCLA. She said she is registered with Center for Accessible Education and the stress of this whole situation has worsened her constant migraines.
Sung said they felt frustrated by the allegations from the Office of Student Conduct given that the police report of the incident states Sung-Miller is the victim.
A copy of that report was obtained by the Bruin and indeed lists Sung-Miller as the victim. The Office of Student Conduct was not able to acquire the report but did receive the police summary of the incident from detective Bell. Sung-Miller said she has pressed charges against her former roommate.
Sung said the whole situation was turned on its head when the Office of Student Conduct sent Sung-Miller the Aug. 13 letter informing her of the allegations against her.
“Instead of the attacker being called to account for her actions, we have the victim being basically framed or being accused of being the attacker and her academic status is being threatened,” Sung said.
Vazquez said in an email statement that residential life and professional staff are sent to assist and support impacted students when an incident is reported in the Residence Halls. Other campus responders such as UCPD may assist staff if necessary, and the staff documents the details of the incident.
The matter is then referred to the Office of Student Conduct if potential conduct violations are found. That office then handles the matter in accordance with the procedures laid out in the UCLA Student Conduct Code.
“Each matter is assessed on an individualized basis to determine whether interim measures, such as no contact directives, are warranted,” the statement read.
Fisher and Fink both said the student misconduct process would benefit if campus advocates were available to all students through some sort of on-campus club or collaboration with the law school. Fisher said the process could also use more transparency by allowing the press to observe proceedings.
“Those are the sort of real changes that would help in the future,” Fisher said. “This was really eye opening and it was scary. I’ve got to think that could happen to any of us.”