Students are questioning the arrest of Michael Masha, a Junior and Resident Assistant (RA), for driving a golf cart on campus that had previously been used for the move-in event that began on Thursday and continued into the weekend. He was arrested Monday evening, August 17 for disorderly conduct based on “unauthorized use of government property,” which was stated on his written citation along with the comment “golf cart belongs to GGC.”
“I feel like he was singled out because he wasn’t very well known” Akeia Lyles, SGA Chief of Staff, said.
“Something I do want to make very clear is Michael did not get arrested because he’s black but something just as important is that if he wasn’t, he would not have been arrested” commented Chase Goodwin, SGA President, who further explained that as a white male he has been able to circumvent many campus procedures such as signing in at the residence halls.
“Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, all student leaders involved in move in … were all using different facilities and different items like the golf cart,” Erin Lucier, a Senior RA explained, and added that the keys were constantly traded around.
Masha explained that he was given the key by Esteban Gonzalez — SGA Vice President — in order to “help facilitate getting people during move in from housing to the student center or to anywhere, just people who needed transportation or had disabilities.”
With the busy days of moving in hundreds of students, Lucier explained that “at the end of each day, I really had no idea who had the key and I don’t think anyone who had originated with the key had any idea where it went. There was no sort of check out process,” Lucier added.
On Monday afternoon, members of the Office of Student Involvement noticed that their golf cart was missing and with no knowledge of who had the cart, they reported the missing property to Public Safety. Dr. Lumpkin explained that calling Public Safety is standard procedure anytime an item is missing.
Chief of Police Terrance Schneider explained that the officers go out and look for the golf cart with the only information they have. “We are pulling police resources out of parking lots and other investigations that they are working on … to find a golf cart that was reported stolen,” Chief Schneider said. “We don’t know if somebody off campus has come and grabbed it and took off with it.”
After pulling surveillance footage from the 1000 building and identifying Masha, Officer Borders contacted him about the golf cart.
“I had no idea there was going to be an arrest,” Masha explained. “We met in front of the 1000 building on campus and there were about four or five police officers just waiting for me out there.”
“They were really quick to jump to it, there was no discussion, no anything like that,” Masha added. The police report, written by arresting officer and GGC graduate, Ashley Still, reported that “when [Masha was] asked why he still had the key he told [police] he didn’t know and wasn’t sure who he was supposed to give the key back to. When we asked if he had used the cart [Monday] he said he had used it twice today to ‘not get rained on.’”
The report also stated that Esteban Gonzalez gave a written statement explaining that he had not given the key to Masha, nor had he given him permission to use the golf cart. Gonzalez declined to comment on the situation.
Dr. Maria Lumpkin called a meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 19 in order to open the lines of communication with students who expressed racial concerns surrounding the arrest. Officers were invited to represent organizations such as the Organization of Latin American Students, African Voice, Black Student Union, Asian Student Association, Gentlemen of Distinction, Pride, and Greenlight.
“It is our goal at GGC to create an inclusive, safe and welcoming environment for all students,” Dr. Lumpkin explained. “Communication is paramount to the success of any community and recent events on campus have challenged us to strengthen our communication. It is my hope that we can move beyond this incident together as a community and move towards substantive dialogue about our various concerns.”
Masha and other students also raised concerns about false information that could damage his credibility. “I heard rumors that Chief Schneider said that [Masha] was arrested for being belligerent,” President Goodwin explained. Various representatives in the meeting echoed Goodwin’s concerns that the narrative had shifted to another black male arrested for being belligerent, rather than a simple miscommunication.
Chief Schneider declined to comment on whether or not Masha was arrested for being belligerent as he was not present, but noted that there are multiple ways to define belligerence. He explained that “the officer has certain discretions that they can affect and it’s up to the officer to decide whether or not to make that arrest.”
When we asked Masha to address the rumor, he said, “I was in front of the 1000 building, in front of where I reside. I live there. There’s people everywhere and it’s the first day of school and the last thing I want to do is embarrass myself and put on a show.”
Chief Schneider explained that “the officer arrested in good faith based upon the information that they had at the time” and it is now up to the legal system to ensure that the case is handled fairly.
“I hope it’s an eye-opening situation not just for us as student leaders but for everyone on this campus and even faculty members …to not always jump to conclusions when you see something out of the ordinary,” Lyles said.
When asked what his plans are now, Masha laughed.
“My first day of school was pretty rough but I’m gonna stay focused on my classes and get my GPA much higher than it is, continue my RA duties and make better connections with my residents, try to impact people’s lives … It’s a great day to be a Grizzly.”