Claire Voltarel, Campus Carrier managing editor
On Sunday, sophomore John Patrick Simpson, 19, was arrested by Berry Police on 20 different counts. Simpson, from Birmingham, Ala., was charged with 15 counts of entering a vehicle with intent of theft or felony, four counts of willful obstruction of law enforcement officers and one count of possession of marijuana less than 1 ounce, according to the Floyd County jail report.
Beginning as early as Aug. 30, Berry Police received a flood of reports from students about break-ins and vandalism to their vehicles. According to Chief of Police Jonathan Baggett, the volume of reports grew exponentially through the weekend.
“From that point it seemed that there was about one a day being reported, up until Saturday morning, a student called saying that their car had been broken into, and then a couple other students called,” Baggett said. “So officers began walking through the parking lots to look and found several cars that had been entered.”
Baggett also noted that the severity of the break-ins had increased as time passed.
Senior Genesis Leggett was one of the students whose car was broken into. Leggett visited her car Thursday morning to find several of her bags opened, contents scattered, her wallet opened and her glove box opened and dug through.
“He stole $50 in cash and about $15-$20 in coins,” Leggett said.
After contacting Berry Police, Leggett filed a report, but was still concerned for safety.
“The damage increased,” Baggett said. “The first few were just change out of the ash tray, not a big deal. Then you had a few where convertible tops were cut and more.”
According to Baggett, the crimes against student vehicles ranged from thefts and break-ins to vandalism on the interiors and exteriors of the cars. However, because of the busy weekend, several students hadn’t found the damage done to their cars.
Seeing the influx of damage, the Berry Police drew plans to catch the responsible party and alert the students. This prompted Gary Will, assistant vice president of campus security and emergency response management, to send out a “Timely Warning” email to campus, encouraging students to lock their vehicles, remove valuable items from their cars and park in designated spots.
Based on the timing of reports, Baggett said the thefts appeared to have occurred between 11 p.m. and 8 a.m., so several officers came to campus Saturday night to patrol the parking lots.
“We were able to make contact with the suspect and he was subsequently arrested and charged,” Baggett said.
Berry President Steve Briggs said the actions taken by Berry Police were efficient and effective.
“They were very attentive to the issues,” Briggs said. “They marshalled their resources and went after it pretty hard Saturday night.”
According to Will, immediately following Simpson’s arrest, steps were taken to ensure security on campus.
“His access to campus has been deactivated,” Will said. “Whether he’s got a decal on his car or his Berry I.D., that was all deactivated.”
Simpson returned to campus after being released from jail on Sunday to move out of his dorm. According to Briggs, he was escorted to campus by the officers that arrested him.
“He came back with his parents, with permission from the dean of students to gather his belongings and leave campus,” Baggett said.
Will added that a staff member from residence life was also present to monitor his move out.
According to Baggett, alongside their investigation, an administrative process is underway to determine Simpson’s status as a member of the Berry community. According to Briggs, after his arrest, Simpson was barred from campus and suspended.
However, since his arrest, students have uncovered more vehicle damage and have made additional reports, Baggett said. Will and Baggett encourage all students to report any damage or theft, as minor as it may be, to campus police, as this is still an ongoing investigation.
“He has been charged, however that doesn’t mean that these charges can’t be increased or additional things can’t be added to it or removed from it,” Will said.
Senior Brianna Black found scratches from a key taken to her car prior to his arrest, but later discovered more damage.
“I noticed on the tire cover on the back of my car a sparkler. I guess it was lit and placed on my tire. It burned through my tire cover and through my tire,” Black said. “The officers assured me that they would do everything they can to get me what I need back.”
According to Baggett, students affected by the break-ins and vandalism will be listed as victims in his case and, if he is convicted, Simpson will likely be sentenced to restitution.
Going forward, several students discussed concern for the lack of cameras on campus and hope mores steps will be taken to ensure security.
“I’m a Gate Scholar, I work 20 plus hours a week, I should be able to rely on the fact that my property is safe on the place that I pay for,” Leggett said.
Will hopes that these Timely Warning emails will incite action from students during events like these, so these will serve as another measure of precaution for students in the future.
According to the footnote at the bottom, Timely Warning emails are “intended to make the campus community aware of specific incident(s) reported to have occurred on campus and to fulfill a federal law requirement as outlined by the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act.”
Will said it is subject to the severity and frequency of an event to determine the necessity for a Timely Warning, so it is not a resource to always rely on.
Black felt the email could have been sent sooner, however noted its effectiveness and appreciated both Berry Police and administration for taking quick action.
After the email, several students, including senior Miranda Smith, rushed to check their cars for damage. Smith found a large scratch around the front and side of her car. She immediately filed a report.
With regard to other potential measures, Leggett added that security cameras could have been instrumental in an event like this, or the incident of theft from Krannert lobby in the spring.
“It should be common sense to have security cameras in parking lots after less than six months ago Berry was getting robbed blind,” Leggett said.
According to Will, they are exploring several options for enhanced security.
“Everything is on the table,” Will said. “We wouldn’t be doing our job if there weren’t discussions.”
In response to the possibility of cameras, Will noted that they are not a preventative measure. However, he stressed that students should keep in mind the actions they can take from the email they received.
“The items in the email remain in effect today as they did on Saturday,” Will said. “The biggest thing a student can do is lock their car.”
According to Baggett, very few of the cars broken into were forcibly entered. Will and Baggett added that caution for valuables extends to residence halls and outside of campus in Rome.
However, several members of the Berry community noted that the safety of Berry’s campus often blinds them to the reality of crime.
“Not much has happened, but when it does happen it’s a huge deal,” Smith said.
Baggett said that in his 17 years at Berry, he’s only experienced 3 other incidents of this level from individuals outside of Berry.
“It’s just not what happens at Berry,” Briggs said.
Leggett echoed Briggs’ point and added that students often don’t think about safety precautions.
“I’m usually good about locking it,” Leggett said. “But that night I just wasn’t worried about it.”
Leggett and Black said that these events are harsh wakeup calls to remind students the importance of safety.
“You may think that Berry is a safe place but there is really not a safe place on this earth,” Leggett said. “It’s always important to be cautious because we do live in the ‘Berry bubble,’ but we won’t be here forever. It’s instances like this that just remind us of that.”
Will and Baggett hope students will take the initiative to report anything in this investigation or the future to help out law enforcement on campus.
“We are a community, so there are only so many police officers on campus and they need all the assistance that they can get,” Will said.
Baggett added that Students should get to know the officers to make it easier to report to a familiar face. He ensured that every report is investigated and, even if it seems trivial, it is important to let officers know what is going on on campus. Will added that timing is essential in solving a crime, so students should feel safe in reporting any time they find something out of place.
Black, Leggett and Smith want to remind students to continue to take precautions, even on campus.
“I often think that this is Berry and bad things don’t happen often, but you have to be honest with yourself and anything could happen anywhere,” Black said. “I’m just glad that it was resolved.”