Originally published in the Los Angeles Loyolan and co-written with Allison Croley. For original, please refer to: Students accuse DPS officer of assault – Los Angeles Loyolan.
A Department of Public Safety (DPS) officer has been accused of assaulting a freshman student. The allegation, which is being brought forward by the student, freshman management major Julian Benfey, and his roommate, freshman theatre arts major Eli Cusick, is currently undergoing “a full and fair and thorough investigation,” according to DPS Chief Hampton Cantrell.
The incident, which according to multiple sources happened at approximately 4:30 a.m. last Friday, was captured on video by Cusick. The Loyolan has viewed the video, which depicts an officer, identified by Benfey and Cusick as DPS Lieutenant Derrick Dodson, tackling Benfey to the ground and restraining him with handcuffs.
Officers responding to what Cantrell called “a drug activity call” knocked on three different doors in Huesman Hall with Resident Director Trammell Jones, the third of which was Benfey and Cusick’s room, number 103. According to Cusick, officers searched the room because a marijuana smell had been detected in Huesman. After being woken up by officers, according to Benfey and Cusick, the two residents complied and left the room. Benfey attempted to take his backpack with him, at which point officers asked to search the bag.
Upon searching the bag, officers found what Benfey and Cusick described as “a gram of [marijuana]” in a pill bottle, allegedly still in the bag after Benfey’s attendance at Coachella Music Festival.
“[We] were saying how this wasn’t allowed, how you can’t just come into someone’s dorm at 4:30 in the morning … and accuse them of doing illegal activities when they’re fast asleep,” Cusick said.
As an officer continued to search the bag and Benfey started shouting at the officers, using profane language, Cusick began recording the event on his phone camera.
According to the video, Benfey requested to take his anti-anxiety medication, which he claimed was in the bag. Officers did not permit Benfey access to his backpack despite this request, according to Benfey. When Benfey attempted to reach for the bag, as depicted in the video, he was strongly guided away by Dodson, to which he responded “Don’t [expletive] touch me,” and shoved Dodson away. According to the video, Dodson responded by tackling Benfey to the ground and handcuffing him. Benfey attempted to stand up, but as depicted in the video, was shoved back onto the ground by Dodson.
Benfey continued to shout at the officers, saying to Dodson, “I pay $55,000 dollars to go here and I’m [expletive] handcuffed outside my [expletive] door right now,” according to the video. After Benfey attempted to stand up again, as depicted in the video, Dodson pinned Benfey into a wall with his hip and held him there for a full minute. At some point during the incident, Benfey claimed, he sustained a minor knee abrasion, as depicted in the image above.
Throughout the altercation, Benfey and Cusick continued to shout at the two officers, as well as at all sleeping residents in Huesman, imploring them to wake up. Cusick was momentarily blocked from filming by an unidentified DPS officer who refused to give his name.
“A [DPS] officer tried to knock my camera out of my hand, saying he was allowed to do so and stop me from filming,” Cusick said, despite Jones’ earlier claim that Cusick could continue filming.
As depicted at approximately the four-minute mark in the video, Dodson released Benfey from holding him against the wall, while keeping him handcuffed. At this point, Jones escorted Benfey down the hall and Cusick stopped filming.
After searching the room for what Cusick recalled as approximately an hour, and allegedly finding no further drugs or paraphernalia beyond the aforementioned marijuana in either Benfey’s bag or the room, the officers reportedly left around 5:30 a.m.
When asked about the policy regarding searching students’ rooms and bags, Cantrell referred the Loyolan to the Residence Life policy that states that rooms can be searched with reason to believe there is a concern about health and safety standards, or if a breach of University policy is suspected.
“Generally, we do conduct searches that are room searches and any reasonable implements – drawers, bags that may be in the room,” Cantrell said. When asked about bags specifically outside of the room, Cantrell said that search procedure “depends on the circumstances.”
Since the time of the incident, Benfey and Cusick have shown the video to a number of campus officials, including, reportedly, Vice President of Student Affairs Lane Bove, Executive Vice President and Provost Joseph Hellige and DPS Captain Cristina Martin. Cantrell would only confirm his knowledge of the video, but would not comment on whether he had viewed it. Benfey claimed he met with Bove personally last Tuesday, May 7.
“Honestly, I was in such a psychological state that I couldn’t focus on my exams until I received a direct apology from a qualified representative,” Benfey said. “Although it didn’t reconcile the situation, as you could assume, a direct apology does make a difference after being humiliated.”
Benfey and Cusick claimed that Dodson has been put on administrative leave without pay, but Cantrell refused to confirm either Dodson’s identity or status. Benfey left the University with his father, Dr. Philip Benfey of Duke University, on Wednesday, May 8, after taking his last final exam. Cusick left the University this morning.
Cantrell declined to comment on specifics for this story beyond confirming an ongoing investigation. Requests for comment to Martin and Jones were not returned by publication time.