A Racist Attack at Arizona

Two white students are charged with assaulting a black student.

September 17, 2019
 
Pima County Sheriff’s Department
Matthew Frazier and Matthew Rawlings

University of Arizona police charged two students with misdemeanor assault on Sept. 13, nearly three days after the white students allegedly beat and yelled racial slurs at a black Arizona student outside a residence hall.

The accused students, Matthew Frazier, 20, and Matthew Rawlings, 19, were identified in university police records that described the incident as having “possible bias,” but they were not charged with a hate crime -- only federal authorities can pursue this charge in Arizona. The victim and witnesses said Frazier and Rawlings used the N-word several times and tackled, punched and kicked the victim, who is unnamed in police records. (Note: This article has been changed from a previous version to include more information from the university, and to clarify a reference to hate crimes.)

The arrests were made after a protest on campus organized by students, enraged that the university's police department initially referred Frazier and Rawlings to the dean of students' office, rather than charging them with assault. The Arizona police's Special Investigation Unit was investigating the case after the alleged assault took place, and before the arrests and records release, Chris Sigurdson, a university spokesperson, said via email. The investigation was ongoing at the time of the protests, he wrote.

The Arizona Black Student Union, along with hundreds of other students, expressed anger at Arizona police for telling Rawlings he would be “diverted through the dean of students in lieu of arrest” for underage alcohol possession, then sending him home without arrest, as the police report states. The officer who confronted Frazier put him in handcuffs and questioned him in a police vehicle, then released him, informing Frazier he would be completing a Code of Conduct report to the dean of students' office.

“It seems to be utterly out of the usual for students to be referred to diversion -- rather than arrested -- when a violent physical assault happened,” a statement posted on an account associated with the Arizona Black Student Union said. “This potential miscarriage of justice, or potential intervention of privilege, is especially upsetting to students because the attack seems to be racially motivated.”

The point of contact for the BSU and the African American student affairs department did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

At the time of the incident, both officers were informed that the victim was not interested in pursuing charges, according to the police report.

“We are committed to ensuring this campus is a safe and inclusive environment for the entire community,” Brian Seastone, Arizona's chief of police, said in a statement announcing the two arrests on Sept. 13.

For certain types of low-level offenses, like a minor in possession of alcohol, officers refer students to the dean of students' office for “diversion,” said Jesus Aguilar, a Arizona officer who spoke on behalf of the department. According to the Student Code of Conduct, actions undertaken by the dean of students' office are “administrative and not criminal in nature.”

“We don’t determine the process that they go through; we direct them to the dean of students,” Aguilar said. “[The officer] made the recommendation and report to the dean of students, and they determine what to do next.”

Aguilar declined to comment on the Frazier and Rawlings case, citing an ongoing investigation, and referred to the police report.

Student protests led by the Arizona BSU ensued on the Tucson campus after the arrests to demand Frazier and Rawlings’ expulsion and the release of police records that describe the incident, the Arizona Daily Star reported. The records were made public shortly after 300 protesters marched to the university’s administration building and chanted “We want justice” and “Black lives matter.”

“I want our community to know that racism, bias and violence will not be tolerated at this university,” Arizona president Robert C. Robbins wrote in an email to students and employees on Sept. 12. “I call on all members of our community to make the commitment to stand against racial bias in any form.”

The night of the alleged assault, the victim declined medical assistance for minor injuries to his knuckles, elbow and knee and said he did not want to press charges against Frazier or Rawlings, according to the police report. The officer who initially spoke to the victim wrote that the student “was unsure if the assault was racially motivated” and “said he couldn’t deal with it.”

Police followed up with the victim on Sept. 12 and reported that he was considering pressing charges after speaking with his mother. He was offered counseling services through Arizona Campus Health, and the officer he spoke with wrote that they discussed scheduling another call to move forward on charges.

“[The victim] said, what happened keeps repeating in his head, him being called that word,” the police report states. “He said the incident replays (in his head) every day, every second and it’s frustrating.”

When he was initially interviewed by police, Rawlings claimed the victim was the one to first yell across the street at Frazier and that the two “tackled each other.” Rawlings then began to kick Frazier, he said, but both Rawlings and Frazier were intoxicated, according to the report, and Rawlings couldn’t recall to police whom he was kicking or who punched first.

Pima County court records show that Frazier was charged by Arizona police in January 2018 for marijuana possession, drug paraphernalia possession and possession of a canceled or fake driver’s license. He completed an adult diversion program and the misdemeanors were not referred for prosecution, according to records.

“With the diversion program, generally our rule is that we only refer a student for diversion once in their career at U of A,” Aguilar said. “If they were ever referred for diversion before, they wouldn’t be eligible.”

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