FAU President's Collision With Student: Witnesses Dispute Police Report
The latest developments in the ongoing fiasco that is the FAU/GEO Group naming rights deal have opened broad new vistas of potential embarrassment for the university and its president, Mary Jane Saunders -- depending on whom you believe.
After a faculty meeting on the school's Jupiter campus Friday, Saunders was confronted by a group of about 20 students miffed by her refusal to discuss the school's sale of naming rights to its athletics field to the notorious private prison company. As she drove away, Saunders struck and injured one of the students. The injury was slight, but the occasion reverberates.
Photo courtesy Britni Hiatt
FAU police say the injured student, Britni Hiatt, caused the collision. She and student witnesses say otherwise.
In the synopsis of the FAU police report, Lt. Tracey Merritt states that Hiatt "intentionally stood near a vehicle that was leaving a parking space, which resulted in her being brushed by the right side mirror." In her narrative, Merritt states that protestors "refused to follow my verbal commands" and "were deliberately trying to get the vehicle to stop by intentionally standing in close proximity, which put themselves at risk."
According to Merritt, as Saunders began to drive away, Hiatt "had just been told to move away from being in front of [Saunders's] vehicle" and that as the vehicle began to move forward Hiatt "appeared to be only inches from the vehicle's right front quarter panel," and "stayed in the same place." According to Merritt, Hiatt "did not fall," "was not even pushed down from the vehicle's momentum," and "just moved quickly away" when the car's right side view mirror "touched/struck" her.
Hiatt was taken by police to a nearby building where she was photographed and gave a sworn statement. At Jupiter Medical Center, she was examined and diagnosed, she told New Times, with a "blunt injury." "It was bruise the size of an orange," she said.
Hiatt said the police account was "incomplete."
"I had moved in response to the police orders," she said. "I had been at the side of the car and was moving away as she was backing up. As she was moving forward, she accelerated, went the wrong way down a one-way street, and didn't pause or stop. If she hadn't accelerated so quickly, she wouldn't have hit me."
Hiatt described her treatment by police as "victim blaming," saying they "seemed generally aggravated/annoyed to deal with me" and that she "had to insist that I write my sworn statement."
Police have referred all questions about the collision to FAU's press office, which made the police report public Saturday. The press office refused to release Hiatt's statement, however, saying they "cannot provide [it] until investigation is closed."
As of this morning, the school's press office would not say whether Saunders gave a statement to police, nor would it provide the sworn statements of other witnesses, say if there is video of the incident, or provide copies of photos referred to in the police report.
Other witnesses, however, provided copies of their statements to New Times, and they lend support to Hiatt's version of events.
In a statement to Officer Derrick Paul, student Catherine A, who asked not to be identified at this time, wrote that as Saunders backed her car up:
"...students were still by the sides of the car, still asking her to talk with us, still asking her to hear us. She sped off and her view mirror on the passenger side hit Britni Hiatt's body. Britni keeled over in pain. Saunders sped/drove in the wrong direction out of the parking lot and in the process sped through two stop signs. She did not stop her car to see if she had injured a student. No officer tried to stop her (Saunders) either."
In a second statement to Officer Derrick Paul, a student named Leslie (last name blacked out) wrote:
"At no point was anyone touching [Saunders's] car that I know of. Then, the President turned and accelerated forward simultaneously, hitting Britni with her passenger side mirror. Britni had been in the parking lot to the right of the car and continued to move out of the way as Saunders turned. The audible acceleration and simultaneous turn was something I didn't anticipate. After the thud of impact, Britni bent over and guarded her side with her hands. The University President proceeded to exit the parking lot, going the wrong way around the roundabout and not stopping or returning to see if everything was alright."
The FAU Police report references three sections of Florida criminal code: 316.027 - Traffic crash pedestrian with injuries, 316.072(3) - Disobey Police Officer, and 316.130 (8) - Pedestrian shall not leave curb or saftey[sic] into path.
Presumably relying on 316.027, some people have called for Saunders to be charged with fleeing the scene of an accident. The statute reads:
The driver of any vehicle involved in a crash occurring on public or private property that results in injury of any person must immediately stop the vehicle at the scene of the crash, or as close thereto as possible, and must remain at the scene of the crash until he or she has fulfilled the requirements of s. 316.062.
The police report makes no mention of 316.062 - Duty to give information and render aid.
Hiatt told New Times she has not, to the best of her knowledge, been charged with any crime. She also said she has not retained counsel and has no plans to file a personal claim. She said she had been advised to contact the State Attorney but has "no formal plans to do so."
Fire Ant -- an invasive species, tinged bright red, with an annoying, sometimes-fatal bite -- covers Palm Beach County. Got feedback or a tip? Contact Fire.Ant@BrowardPalmBeach.com.
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