UNCW releases call to police that sparked an alleged racial profiling incident

UNCW releases call to police that sparked an alleged racial profiling incident

WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - UNCW officials have released a call to the university police department that sparked an alleged racial profiling incident on campus Tuesday.

In the audio recording, the caller tells a dispatcher that he noticed someone sitting on a bench behind Cameron Hall acting suspiciously. The person was later identified as Dr. Rajan Juniku, who teaches chemistry at the university.

"There's a man sitting there in a zipped up red jacket with his hands in his pockets," the caller explained. "But I just think it's odd that it's almost 80 degrees and he's sitting there zipped up in a jacket with his hands in his pockets watching people walking by."

The caller continues, "I don't know if he is a 10-60 subject [suspicious person] or just someone who wants to warm up."

After confirming where the subject is sitting, the dispatcher asks the caller to describe the person's ethnicity.

Dispatch: Can you tell if he is black, white or Hispanic?

The dispatcher reached out to a campus officer, stating "he's looking from the top of Dobo Hall. He said his skin looks darker.  He's not sure whether or not he's a Caucasian male, but he's wearing a large red jacket."

Juniku said campus police approached him and asked him to remove his hands from his pockets very slowly with no sudden movements. They then ordered him to remove his jacket and proceeded to search it thoroughly.

In an interview Wednesday, Juniku said he was shocked at what happened. He said he doesn't think the school is at fault, but does believe the responding officer overstepped his bounds.

"I don't blame the school for this incident," Juniku said. "I understand at the present time a lot of bad things are happening, but they should be more careful with how they deal with this. I am a faculty, and if he knew that he never would have done what he did. I would never hurt anyone."

The professor said he asked the officer if he stopped him because he looked Middle Eastern and the officer said no, he was responding to a call of a suspicious person and was following orders.

UNCW Police Chief David Donaldson spoke out Thursday for the first time regarding the encounter.

"I want to be clear that the officer performed courteously, professionally and with sensitivity to the circumstances and consistent with the mission of the police department and our priority to public safety," Donaldson said. "The encounter was brief. It was not delayed. It was explained. He introduced himself and explained the nature of the concern and as soon as the concern was dispelled, the officer wished him a good day and he wished the officer a good day."

Donaldson went on to commend the unnamed officer, saying his conduct was professional and in line with the department's training.

"I'm proud to work with the officer. The officer performed and represented the department and the interests of the community to the highest level," Donaldson said. "Our responsibility was to respond, we were obligated to investigate, and I'm pleased that when we had that opportunity, we did it in a manner that was professional, courteous and was consistent with our expectations and training."

He continued, "Any reference to race or ethnicity influencing our response is misplaced and absolutely erroneous."

Juniku met with university officials Thursday to discuss his concerns about the encounter.

His wife took to Facebook after the incident saying "he's been sick the last two days and was trying to warm up" and "someone thought he looked less like a university lecturer and more like a terrorist."

A university official released the following statement Wednesday afternoon about the incident:

The University's police department was contacted by an employee at approximately 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 28. The caller expressed concern that a man was seated on a bench behind Cameron Hall wearing a zipped-up jacket that did not seem congruent with the warm weather conditions. There was no mention of race by the caller until he was asked by the dispatcher to provide routine descriptive information so that the man could be efficiently located by police personnel. A UPD officer was dispatched to the location and upon arrival, there was an interaction of less than 2 minutes between the officer and the man, who self-identified as a faculty member. 

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