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Expelled UMass student sues school, administrators

By Denise Lavoie
AP Legal Affairs Writer / February 17, 2012
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BOSTON—A former University of Massachusetts Amherst student expelled after his arrest at a post-Super Bowl disturbance on campus has filed a federal lawsuit against the university and two administrators.

Cullen Roe says in his lawsuit that his expulsion two days after the Feb. 5 disturbance was "arbitrary, unfair, intimidating, wrongful and unlawful," in violation of the U.S. Constitution and the student code of conduct because no hearing was held before the expulsion so he could defend himself.

Roe, a 19-year-old sophomore, is seeking unspecified monetary damages and reinstatement.

Roe was one of 14 people arrested after an estimated 1,500 students and others gathered in a common area of the UMass campus after the New York Giants' 21-17 win over the New England Patriots. Authorities said some within the crowd threw bottles and rocks, attempted to flip over cars and started at least one fire. Police in riot gear broke up the disturbance.

Those arrested were charged with failure to disperse and disorderly conduct.

After the arrests, UMass officials said they planned to review the students' cases for possible disciplinary action.

Roe pleaded not guilty and denied doing anything wrong.

UMass spokesman Ed Blaguszewski would not say whether other students were also expelled, citing federal privacy regulations that prevent the school from commenting on disciplinary action against particular students. He also declined to comment on Roe's lawsuit.

"The university takes this seriously," Blaguszewski said of the Super Bowl disturbance.

"We moved ahead promptly to review these cases and move these students' cases into the dean's office," he said. "The dean has the authority to impose sanctions based on the individual case and the evidence in the individual case ... and those sanctions include up to suspension and expulsion."

According to the lawsuit, Roe was arrested by a plainclothes officer who said he saw Roe turn toward uniformed officers and yell "(expletive) the police!" and "bring it on!"

The officer said he arrested Roe for failure to disperse and disorderly conduct.

The lawsuit, filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Springfield, says that after Roe pleaded not guilty to the charges on Feb. 7, he was given a letter signed by Dean of Students Enku Gelaye that said he was charged with violating the student code of conduct by "endangering behavior to persons or property" and "endanger-engaging with and/or inciting others."

The letter also said he was being expelled immediately as an "interim restriction" pending disciplinary proceedings, based on the school's claim that his "behavior represents a direct and imminent threat to (his) safety and the safety of the University community."

Under the code of conduct, once a charge is brought, the student must receive a notice of the charge and be given the opportunity to request a disciplinary conference. However, the university may immediately impose interim restrictions on a student pending disciplinary proceedings without prior notice "whenever there is ground to believe that the student is an imminent threat to himself or herself, to others, or to property, or the cause of serious imminent disruption to the University community."

Roe's lawyer, Luke Ryan, declined to comment on the school's claim, but in the lawsuit, he says Roe "poses no imminent threat to anyone at the University."

The lawsuit says UMass violated Roe's right to due process by expelling him without providing him a hearing or establishing that he constituted an imminent threat that would warrant an interim restriction.

The lawsuit says that unless the expulsion is lifted, Rose will be unable to complete his spring classes, take his exams and obtain academic credit for courses completed during the semester. He will also not be reimbursed for the money he has paid to UMass for tuition, student fees, room, board and other costs, the lawsuit says.

The suit asks a judge to issue an injunction to bar UMass from continuing the expulsion. A hearing has been scheduled for Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Springfield.

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