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DA: Investigation Doesn’t Support Simon’s Rock Assault Claims


According to the Berkshire District Attorney’s office, several details in an alleged racially-motivated assault at Simon’s Rock don’t add up.

On September 27th, a student of color at Bard College at Simon’s Rock reported that they had been knocked unconscious and dragged into the woods on the campus of the Great Barrington liberal arts college.

Now, Berkshire District Attorney Andrea Harrington’s office says the investigation hasn’t found evidence to corroborate initial claims.

Simon’s Rock alum André Santana told WAMC earlier this month that the incident came at a time of high tension on campus.

“Essentially, in the week leading up to the incident on Friday, there was actually instances of graffiti on campus that used racial slurs and after the first incidents, the community got together," said Santana. "They brought in outside facilitators to have a community discussion. And shortly after, there was yet another incident of not only racial slurs and phrases but also swastikas as well. And the community again followed up with community conversation, and actually the students put together a sort of empowerment mural over the place where the graffiti had happened. And from what I understand, someone came and punched a hole through that display as well.”

Then came the alleged assault.

“The student informed investigators that the student was rendered unconscious and dragged approximately 75 yards into the woods," said Berkshire DA office Public Information Officer Andy McKeever. "The student later reported waking with cuts through the student’s clothing, resulting in cuts to the student’s torso.”

In the aftermath, Santana told WAMC that the incident highlighted “mismanagement of the situation” by the Simon’s Rock administration – a pattern he says fits with the college’s historic relationship with its students of color.

“And so that has really been our emphasis, is trying to think about what steps the administration could have taken that they didn’t take, but also how the culture at Simon’s Rock over all surrounding race, surrounding other identities, has culminated and has been improperly supported throughout the coruse of the years," said Santana. "Unfortunately, I was on campus on Monday, and the environment reflects that lack of safety, it reflects that students aren’t being advocated for unless they push the administration to advocate for them.”

In a statement Wednesday, the DA’s office details areas in which the investigation had been unable to corroborate the original story of the assault.

“The ground in the area of which the student was reportedly dragged consisted of a wooden path, dirt and mud," said McKeever. "The student’s clothing, shoes, hair and body did not have any dirt or debris on them. The superficial wounds on the student’s torso did not align with the cuts on the student’s clothing. There were no defensive wounds. Records provided thus far do not provide a medical reason for unconsciousness. Investigators have conducted three interviews of the student, but there's no description of the alleged assailant provided at any time. There's no surveillance footage of the area, and none of the witnesses at the time in the area reported seeing any other potentially involved parties.”

McKeever says the investigation is ongoing, and that the U.S. Attorney’s office was notified that there was potentially a racial aspect to the alleged assault.

“It’s got a wide scope to it, and it involves everything from the nature of the original complaint to any potential motivations behind the alleged assault,” he told WAMC.

The Berkshire DA’s office says the investigation is currently waiting on forensic testing, including some by the State Police crime lab.

Reached for comment by WAMC Thursday, Simon’s Rock said it didn’t have anyone available to speak.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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