Student suspension raises questions – Incident may set precedent for future firearm policy on campus

Student+suspension+raises+questions+-+Incident+may+set+precedent+for+future+firearm+policy+on+campus

Tim Eggert

Less than three weeks before the opening day of firearm season, former NMU student Tristan Leaf was charged with violating the university weapons policy and immediately suspended after a compound bow was found in his vehicle.

On the opening day of firearm season, a campus-wide email sent by the dean of students office detailed the weapons policy under Student Code Regulation 2.3.31: Weapons. In reiteration of the policy, the Nov. 15 email stated that no projectile producing devices—everything from handguns to Nerf guns to compound bows—are permitted on any university property, and that all such weapons used for recreational purposes must be registered, stored and transported through Public Safety and Police Services.

When Leaf’s bow was found at 1:27 p.m. on Oct. 31, he was present in Lot 17 and enrolled as a student, according to the Dean of Students Office Specification of Charges.

“He was aware of the rule about weapons on campus, but simply forgot the locked, encased bow and a large hunting knife, in his locked truck,” explained Leaf’s attorney Steve Pence. “He fully admitted to the mistake and complied with the officer, the only question was: What is a sane response to an error?”

On Nov. 1, Leaf was officially sanctioned with a one calendar year suspension, and the eligibility to enroll in winter 2019.

“A strict one semester probationary period held in abeyance would have been enough to make sure it never happened again,” Pence claimed. “The university has itself tongue tied and continues to trample on people’s rights.”

The electronic version of the Student Code does not list a definite sanction for violating Regulation 2.3.31. The email distributed on Nov. 15 specified that “students who are found responsible for violating the student code regulation regarding weapons are suspended from the university.” A Nov. 30 article in The North Wind quoted Director of Public Safety and Polices Services Mike Bath with a claim that violations of the policy could result in suspension for the remainder of an academic year.

Assistant Dean of Students Haley Rhoades, who imposed the charges against Leaf, said there are no specific sanctions per each code.

“Breaches of student code are considered on a case-by-case basis,” she said. “Regulations prohibit me from divulging on any specific student conduct cases.”

Rhoades had no explanation for the sanction inconsistency between the electronic Student Code, the Nov. 15 email and Bath’s statement.

“The email was sent to let people know the severity of having weapons on campus,” she said.

“This case proves how harsh, unforgiving and draconian the university is,” Pence said.

Under the Student Code, charged students are entitled to a leniency appeal via Regulation 2.6: Appeals. In a Nov. 6 letter of leniency appeal addressed to Associate Provost Dale Kapla, Leaf claimed he had no intention of leaving the fully encased compound bow in his vehicle.

“I was not threatening anyone, nor did I take my bow out of my vehicle. I did not mean anyone any harm,” he stated in the letter. Leaf also cited his three year attendance at Ferris State University, in which he followed a procedure of checking in and out the same bow with campus officials.

“For me not to lose all I have worked for would be greatly appreciated. Please consider taking my parking privileges away or some other lesser punishment,” Leaf argued. Leaf also explained that he was a first generation student, and that his funding was through loans.

Although Leaf’s appeal for leniency from his suspension was denied on Nov. 16 by Kapla, the response permitted reenrollment for fall 2018, in which the suspension would be held in abeyance attributed the one semester reduction to his collaboration on the case with Michigan State Sen. Tom Casperson and State Rep. Scott Dianda.

“I lobbied with them so we could get close to something like a sane punishment,” Pence explained. “But I believe it was their impact, not mine. I was totally useless.”

Even though the suspension was rescaled, Leaf elected not to consider returning to NMU. “[Leaf] just gave up,” Pence said. “He told me: ‘I’m done, I’m not going back.’”

As of publication, Leaf doesn’t plan to pursue further litigation against the university, but instead to find another opportunity at a different school, Pence said.

“Tristan’s case is such a clear-cut example of an Upper Peninsula youth who reflects his culture as a person who likes to hunt,” Pence said. “But this also shows how Northern was tone deaf in crushing him with discipline that was out of proportion to what he did.”

Leaf was contacted for a statement, but was not willing to comment.