The Sigma Nu chapter of Delta Sigma Theta sorority has been suspended for six months by both the national chapter and Missouri Western after an event involving gunfire and damage to a historic painting in St. Joseph.
According to the St. Joseph Police Department case report, officers were summoned to the scene when a fight broke out. Upon arrival, the officer heard gunshots and saw many of the subjects running from the front of the building.
The report includes eyewitness accounts of the event. Witness Erica Wilhite described the shooter as a black male with a short Afro hairstyle, 5-foot-6 to 5-foot-7, weighing roughly 180 pounds.
In the report, Wilhite said she did not know the man, but knew he was local. She said she saw the shooter arguing with Western football players before shots were fired. She also identified the gun as a semi-automatic.
Two-year Delta Sigma Theta President Shelby Bratton said she did not know the man who was shooting at the event.
“I don’t even think he was a student,” she said.
Bratton said that the event at the Wyeth-Tootle mansion was a non-alcoholic fundraiser for one of the chapter’s community service projects.
Although the police report stated that there were approximately 50 subjects at the scene, Bratton said there were many more guests than that, and by the time the police arrived, many of the guests were already gone.
Bratton said the sorority advertised the party on their social media pages, so anyone who saw the posts could come.
Bratton also said they did have paid security at the event. The group hired individuals on campus who worked security at events before.
Bratton said there was a painting damaged at the event, and the sorority is in the process of raising money to pay back the mansion.
Along with losing their $200 security deposit, the sorority made their first payment back to the mansion in December. The group paid $300 with the promise that they would have the rest of the bill, which is upwards of $3,000, paid in full before May 31.
Jackie Lewin, executive director of the St. Joseph Museums, said that this event was the first time they had allowed the Wyeth-Tootle mansion to be rented by a sorority or fraternity.
“All sororities in general won’t be using our facilities,” she said. “Looking back on it, I think it’s probably not a good idea for us to do that. I think no matter what sorority or fraternity it is, probably some aspect of it may go wrong.”
Lewin said a painting of Joseph Robidoux had a hole punched through it. She explained that she thought the group of guests at the mansion were outside, and when they heard the gunfire, ran back inside trying to escape the shots. She thought the rush was when the damage occurred.
“We had taken it down and it was leaning up against a wall area, so they hit into it,” Lewin said.
Lewin said the sorority told the museum staff that they would have event insurance before the date of the event. The use of the mansion was contingent on the sorority having the insurance.
Bratton said that DST did purchase liability insurance, but it did not cover the damage caused at the event.
Lewin and the rest of the museum staff are eager for the bill to be paid.
“We just want to collect our money because we are sitting with the painting, waiting to get it repaired,” Lewin said.
The event was a fundraiser party for the Edison Elementary School classroom that the sorority adopted. The DST women raised money for Christmas gifts for the students in the classroom and participate in events with the students throughout the year. The sorority focuses on community service as one of its top priorities.
The sorority raised funds at the party by invoking a cover charge to all guests. The price was $5 for females and $7 males until 11 p.m., when prices changed to $7 and $10, respectively.
However, after the damage incurred at the event, the plans for the money raised was altered.
“We actually didn’t get to donate to them [Edison], because we are dealing with other financial issues,” Bratton said.
The Wyeth-Tootle Mansion, located at the corner of Eleventh and Charles Streets, was built around the turn of the century. The mansion’s 43 rooms are filled with hand-painted ceilings and imported stained glass.
The painting of Robidoux that was damaged during the event is one of many portraits of prestigious citizens of the city in the 1900s.
Since DST is suspended from campus, they can only have events under their name if Isaiah Collier, assistant dean of student development, approves them. This process makes fundraising to repay the mansion more difficult.
A fundraiser was held at Belt Bowl on Feb. 25, where donations were accepted to repair the mansion.
Bratton said that a team will be competing in the step show in April, and, if they win, the money would go toward paying the bill. She said the six members of the sorority are trying to be creative and proactive and continuously come up with new ideas to raise funds.
Bratton said the sorority is also taking donations.
Campus Police criticized over arrest
Rodney Roberts, a mentor to Missouri Western underclassmen for the past year, doesn’t think that campus is safe for his students anymore.[caption id="attachment_17590" align="alignleft" width="150"] Campus Police cars sit out side Blum. The officers use the cars to patrol Downs drive regularly. They officers also patrol inside buildings.[/caption]
After a Feb. 27 altercation between two officers and former Men’s basketball player Lavonte Douglas, students have expressed their concerns with the Police Department’s relations with students.
Roberts, a Founder and the President of the Gentlemen of Color Association, a mentoring program for African-American underclassmen, thinks that Douglas’ situation was poorly handled by the officers on call.
“One of my biggest pet peeves is the fact that students feel endangered by officers on campus,” Roberts said.
Roberts also thinks that students can’t trust officers after the incident involving Douglas. He said that some girls who witnessed the event were crying because they felt so unsafe.
“I can’t stress enough that there is no reason that the students of this school should feel unsafe, threatened or just plain out in fear of our public safety officers,” Roberts said. “Who feels safe around you? You’re not real public safety, you’re bullies. You’re bullies with guns. You’re legal bullies.”
At the time of the incident, Douglas was approached in the food court by Corporal Robert Bidding and Officer Travis Fulton.
Douglas said that he felt threatened by Bidding and Fulton when they approached him in the food court. When Douglas refused to show them his Western ID card, Douglas said they tried to apprehend him. He ran up stairs to the Student Affairs office.
“I feel like some of Lavonte's actions, like running up to the Student Affairs office, at no point should a student feel like that’s his only option that he needs to run through a building for his safety to another office. If we employ these officers to protect us, then why are we so scared of them?”
Although Roberts said he has never had any problems with either officer involved in the incident, he said he’s seen Fulton become rude and aggressive with other students.
Roberts said that complaints he’s heard from the freshmen he mentors is that Fulton is “aggressive, unfair, racist, stereotypes them and doesn’t really give them a fair shot.”
Roberts said that Fulton has never acted this way towards him, but he has seen Fulton treat other students unfairly. Roberts said he has had problems with Officer Nick Scheidegger.
“I have a history with Officer Scheidegger, the guy legitimately hates me, like legitimately hates me.” Roberts said. “Other police officers have actually told me like, ‘Stay out of his way, he seems to really not like you.’ There should be no reason for that.”
Tobias Pointer, the current president of the Black Student Union, believes there is a gap between officers and minorities on campus.
“As usual it’s always a lack of communication with higher power and minorities at Missouri Western State University,” Pointer said. “I believe the issue could have been solved in a much better way than it was.”
Two years ago, former BSU President Leah Hayes started a petition asking Western’s officers to undergo diversity training. Pointer believes this is something that officers would still benefit from.
“I feel diversity training would definitely help them deal with students that they feel are hostile or aggressive without having to go through the same route they did with Lavonte,” Pointer said.
University President Robert Vartabedian said that to his knowledge, the officers do undergo diversity training, but he is aware of a single issue with Fulton.
“I guess it depends on how you define problems,” Vartabedian said. “I think there was at least one other issue that was brought up but we investigated it and we investigated it to our satisfaction so I don’t think we would necessarily categorize it as a problem, but there was an issue we needed to deal with previously.”
Vartabedian wasn’t aware of any issues with other officers. Chief of Police Jon Kelley was unavailable for comment.
Student Government Association President Jacob Scott believes that Western’s police force is dedicated to protecting students.
“I don’t know if it’s necessarily a problem but it’s an ongoing educational experience,” Scott said. “There’s always a more and more diverse population on campus, people coming from different backgrounds and we operate differently we have a different understanding of authority and it’s important that we recognize our differences and come up with a method in which we handle these situations.”
Scott hopes that the investigation into the Feb. 27 incident is fair and said that SGA leaders could be a resource for Douglas in navigating the student handbook.Douglas’s formal hearing with Western administration took place Wednesday at 3 p.m. The result of that hearing was not available at press time.