By Terrence McCoy
By Allie Conti
By Terrence McCoy
By Scott Fishman
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Allie Conti
By New Times Staff
By Ryan Pfeffer
Charged with felony battery, Mitchell would spend more than a week in jail before his frat brothers scraped together $2,500 to bail him out.
What led to Emory Mitchell's ending up in a bathroom with several security guards and what exactly happened once he was there depends on whom you ask.
According to the account that the security guards, subcontracted from national security provider Allied Barton, gave police, 22-year-old officer Harry Monestime caught Mitchell tossing a blunt into the lagoon at the center of campus. Mitchell began shoving, and backup was needed to restrain the irate and violent student after he fled into the bathroom. The police report made no mention of the guards wielding nightsticks or Finley pulling a gun.
It's impossible to argue with the video — which was posted on New Times' Riptide 2.0 blog and then aired on several local news shows the next evening — but that doesn't mean FMU's administration didn't give it the old college try. The school responded to reporters' inquiries by releasing a signature-less statement that pointedly referred to the video as "amateur [and] edited." They reported that Mitchell had been suspended indefinitely.
"The security officers involved in the incident attempted to restrain the male student, who responded by assaulting the security officers," the statement continued.
Not until the next day did the school, perhaps owing to pressure from students, announce that it had replaced the gun-drawing Finley.
In hindsight, the administration's instant condemnation of Mitchell was a foolhardy — and perhaps libelous — stance. On November 18, a month after the near-riot, prosecutors dropped the criminal charge against Mitchell after guards failed to appear in court.
In an interview three weeks after the melee, FMU's interim president, Sandra T. Thompson, strains for neutrality. She tells New Times that neither Mitchell's suspension nor Finley's replacement was a presumption of guilt. "Emory was charged with a crime, so it's our policy that he be immediately suspended," she says. "We just felt that given the sentiment on campus, it would be best to replace that guard."
Now Mitchell, who is being represented pro bono by the late Johnnie Cochran's law firm, has gone on the offensive. He's angling for a "public retraction" from the school and his reinstatement as a student and to have abuse and reckless-endangerment charges levied against the guards. Though his lawyer, Joseph Vredevelt, says he is pursuing civil action against the school and the security company, Mitchell tells New Times he is not looking for a payday: "This isn't about money."
His Facebook status updates express a different sentiment. He spells out his terms exactly, demanding $1 million "times how many times I got hit with that nightstick" — which, according to him, is three. "Flo Mo [Florida Memorial] better go ahead and work that payment plan out now!"
HIST 203: Roots of an Institution
In 1879, the Black Baptists of Florida, a ballsy missionary contingent that believed black education was the only route to eventual integration in America, founded the Florida Baptist Institute in Live Oak, Florida — a railroad stop with a big tree just south of the Georgia border. This was KKK country, and lynchings were common. The institute dispensed with white professors, whom violent segregationists had labeled "carpetbaggers," after one was threatened at gunpoint and two black students were tied up and shot to death.
In those harrowing early days, the institution that would become Florida Memorial University developed what remains its specialty: the education of educators. Explains Paul George, historian at the Historical Museum of Southern Florida: "At that time, segregation actually created a niche industry for black teachers."
In 1941, the Baptist Institute moved to a former slave plantation in St. Augustine, where it merged with Florida Normal and Industrial Institute, the proud black institution where "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing" — also known as the Black National Anthem — had been penned. The new school would become Florida Memorial College (not accredited as a university until 2006) and include in its faculty famed novelist Zora Neale Hurston.
In 1968, Florida Memorial relocated to its current 56-acre campus in what was then-unincorporated Northwest Dade County in order to tap into urban Miami's black population.
Johnny Duncombe, now a retired Broward County Public Schools principal, was in the first South Florida class that graduated in 1972. He recalls the scrappy college scrambling on a shoestring budget, with students living in trailer-like "habitats" and TV dinner-style meals being trucked in, warmed on the spot, and devoured in classrooms.
Although the former principal is eager to attest that Florida Memorial made him what he is today as an educator, he recalls a whiff of scandal chasing its administration. "When I was in school there, I heard folks accusing the financial aid officer of stealing funds," he says. "Controllers, directors, and financial officers were always coming and going — here one year and gone the next."
Dusty court records prove that the newly minted Miami institution's financial and administration woes were more than rumor. From 1973 to 1983, Florida Memorial was named as a defendant in a whopping 101 civil suits, 29 of them for allegedly not paying bills. The college was sued by Xerox; textbook suppliers McGraw-Edison, Penguin Books, and Merrill Publishing; a business providing security dogs; and even a trash company. In all, Florida Memorial has been sued for indebtedness 66 times since 1973.