Hartford student charged after boasting about contaminating roommate’s belongings

Brianna Brochu’s booking photo. —West Hartford Police Department via AP

A student at the University of Hartford in Connecticut was charged with criminal mischief and expelled from school after boasting about having contaminated her roommate’s toothbrush, face lotion and other belongings in an effort to drive her from the room.

The student, Brianna Brochu, 18, was in court Wednesday for charges that originated with an Instagram post in which she said she had finally accomplished what had apparently been a long-held goal: ridding herself of her dorm roommate, Chennel Rowe, whom she referred to as “Jamaican Barbie.”

“After one and a half months spitting in her coconut oil, putting moldy clam dip in her lotions, rubbing used tampons on her backpack, putting her toothbrush places where the sun doesn’t shine, and so much more, I can finally say goodbye to Jamaican Barbie,” said the post, which has since been deleted. Brochu is white; Rowe is black.

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Lt. Michael Perruccio of the West Hartford Police Department said that the police began investigating the report on Oct. 18 and that Brochu turned herself in Saturday.

On Wednesday, the police department said it would be requesting that Brochu be charged with intimidation based on bigotry or bias. And the university announced that she was no longer a student and would not be returning.

“As of this morning, Brianna Brochu is no longer a student at the University of Hartford,” said the school’s president, Gregory S. Woodward. “She will not be returning to the institution.”

Rowe, a freshman at the university, described her roommate’s behavior in a Facebook video Monday, and accused the school of attempting to keep the episode quiet.

She said that the revelations, posted on Instagram as she was moving out, had helped explain why she had been sick early in the school year, suffering from extreme throat pain that eventually made it difficult to sleep or speak.

Rowe said that she and Brochu had been placed together randomly and that their relationship had been tense.

“I moved out because I felt like I was unwanted in my own room,” she said.

As she was in the process of moving, Rowe said, other residents approached her about several posts Brochu had made on social media. They included pictures of bloodstains on Rowe’s backpack and videos of Rowe eating, with comments suggesting that the utensils she was using had been contaminated.

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Brochu had already been charged by the time Rowe posted the video. But Rowe expressed frustration that it had taken so long for Brochu to be punished.

She said that school authorities had told her if she spoke out about the situation, she could be removed from her campus residence. And she said that race had been a factor in the school’s response, speculating that if she were white and Brochu were black, the investigation would have been more urgent.

“If the race roles were reversed, I feel like this would have gone down a different route,” she said.

The university’s undergraduate student body is 15 percent African-American, according to statistics posted on its website.

Rowe did not respond to emails requesting further comment on Wednesday.

Her video catapulted her experience into the news, with the hashtag #justiceforjazzy — based on the name she uses on Facebook — being used to spread her story.

In a statement posted online Tuesday, Woodward called Brochu’s behavior “reprehensible” and said that he was confident that the university had pursued the matter seriously.

“The university strictly and swiftly followed all procedural and legal processes related to this alleged event; claims to the contrary are based on misinformation,” he said. “The incident has brought about accusations of racism, and I want you to know that I hear and share your anger and frustration. Acts of racism, bias, bullying, or other abusive behaviors will not be tolerated on this campus.”

Woodward followed up Wednesday with the statement announcing Brochu’s expulsion. That statement clarified the timeline, saying that the school’s public safety department became involved on Oct. 17 and that the case was turned over to the local authorities early the next day.

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A spokeswoman for the university did not respond to questions about Rowe’s claims and about whether Woodward was accusing Rowe of spreading misinformation.

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