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Off-campus seniors fined $1,000 by University after neighbor complaints to SBPD, Mayor

Jenn Metz | Friday, October 17, 2008

After moving into their off-campus house in August, Notre Dame seniors Taylor Montgomery, Joey Brown, James DuBray and Lorenzo Reyes, a sports writer for The Observer, threw a party.

Neighbors, concerned with the noise and crowds gathering outside the residence at number 815 E. Wayne St., called the South Bend Police Department (SBPD) twice during the night of the party on Aug. 29.

DuBray and his roommates showed The Observer the police records from that night from 9:47 p.m. and 11:18 p.m., stating neighbors’ complaints: “Loud music coming from resident, caller would like it turned down” and “large ND party, throwing trash around, throwing bottles at houses,” respectively.

Police officers who went to the house that night advised the seniors to stop the loud music and to take the party inside after the first complaint, and upon the second complaint, warned that a citation would be issued if the police had to return a third time.

DuBray said the police did not come back that night, and that no citations or tickets were issued.

“That’s why we were kind of shocked to get a letter from ResLife,” he said, referring to the Office of Residence Life and Housing (ORLH).

The residents of the E. Wayne St. house received letters from ORLH on Sept. 9, after a letter written by the concerned neighbors circulated through the offices of the Mayor of South Bend and were received by the University.

Earlier that week on Sept. 4, the seniors received a notice to abate from the City of South Bend’s Department of Law, citing them in violation of the Disorderly House Ordinance, South Bend Municipal Code Section 13-75.5, and deeming the house a “public nuisance.”

A Sept. 11 South Bend Tribune article titled “Police cracking down on student parties” refers specifically to this party. Ervin Baker, a resident of the 800-block of E. Wayne St. is quoted in the article saying bottles were broken on neighbors’ porches and that “the only way to get it taken care of was to get it on record with a complaint, so several people in the neighborhood called.”

The Tribune article did not quote the students in reference to the complaints received against them.

“We thought we were being very careful and looked up the noise ordinances,” DuBray said. He told The Observer the ordinance states that noise regulations are to be observed after 11 p.m., and that the party was moved inside before that time.

He said he felt that press coverage of parties indicate that students are acting maliciously, but that “there is a big line between being neglectful and being malicious.”

“I understand there are a lot of town relations problems, and that part of it is that some students are neglectful,” DuBray said. “There are people who want to imply that there is a malicious intent, but I just think most people would agree that is so far from the truth.”

“The people who were most affected [by the noise] are our biggest advocates,” Brown said. “We help them with the lawn, we help them with the leaves, we play with their kids sometimes.”

The seniors asked Jennifer and Joshua Martin, the neighbors described above, to write a letter on their behalf.

That letter, dated from Sept. 22, states the residents of number 815 “have been friendly and communicate with us effectively. They have been good neighbors.”

Brown described their party in more detail for The Observer, stating at its peak, “probably 75 people were there.”

Brown said the letter “painted a portrait,” and that it contained details from earlier in the night, setting up for the party, and when then band started playing.

“I think there have been students living in this house before, and the have been pretty irresponsible,” he said.

The seniors said the letter from their concerned neighbors was the only evidence against them presented in their meeting with ORLH.

Jeff Shoup, Director of the Office of Residence and Life and Housing, said in an e-mail that the Office is unable to respond to questions regarding specific cases.

He referred The Observer to page 103 of in the 2008-09 edition of duLac, a Guide to Student Life, where the introduction to the section titled “Student Life Policies” states “The University’s student life policies and disciplinary procedures are under the jurisdiction of the Office of Student Affairs. All alleged violations are at the disposition of that office through the Office of Residence Life and Housing. Unless otherwise noted, these policies and procedures apply to all students; undergraduate, graduate, and professional, whether the behavior occurs on or off campus.”

Brown and his roommates told The Observer that the meeting was “threatening.”

Brown said he asked the representatives of the Office of Residence Life and Housing at the meeting “what the worse possible scenario was, and they said ‘we can evict, we’ve done it in the past.'”

“They said, ‘if I were you, I would start calling apartment complexes,'” he said.

Shoup did not respond to further Observer questions regarding disciplinary procedures involving students living off-campus, the evidence required for a case to be brought to the Office’s attention, or whether or not the Office has the authority to evict students from their off-campus residences.

“If the police would have said ‘these people are uncooperative’ and then we would understand, ‘OK, we are doing something that is violating the law, and then the school might have reason to punish us,'” DuBray said. “We felt like the police reports indicate that we didn’t break any laws. We complied with police officers in every way possible.”

The seniors told The Observer that everyone at the Aug. 29 party was of age.

South Bend landlord Mark Kramer, who owns the 815 E. Wayne St. property, said he did not have any discussion with ORLH in regards to the students being evicted.

He said he did not believe the Office had the authority to threaten eviction if they do not own the home.

“I’m pretty sure the University does not have jurisdiction over a property that I own,” he said.

“To my knowledge, only I can evict my tenants,” he said. “And I did not threaten them with eviction.”

Kramer told The Observer he had a meeting of his own with the students.

“I talked to them about their behavior and how they should act as members of a neighborhood and how they should respect their neighbors,” he said.

The students sent letters of apology to the neighbors affected by their August party.

“We may have screwed up, but we took a lot of precautionary measures, and since that day, we’ve completely changed our way of life,” Brown said.

“Since that point,” Kramer said, “we’ve not had any more complaints from the neighbors that initially complained, or any other neighbors for that particular house.”

“The situation is under control, largely due to the students’ willingness to understand their neighbors’ position and making an effort to apologize and make contact with them,” he said.

Richard Leach, a resident of number 824 E. Wayne St., told The Observer he was one of the concerned neighbors, but that he did not personally author the letter. “There were four or so neighbors who were getting a little perturbed,” he said.

“We were very upset with what was going on,” he said. “There were parties lasting to 3, 4 in the morning, with 40 or more kids at the party, loud noise, and cabs coming every four or five minutes.”

Leach said he has never personally spoken to the students, but that “the situation has been taken care of.”

“They’ve sent a letter of apology, and so far, they’ve been well behaved,” he said.

The students said they never saw a copy of the letter; The Observer was not able to obtain a copy.

The students received a letter dated Sept. 30 with the results of their disciplinary conference with Residence Life, a copy of which they gave to The Observer.

The letter stated: “the University expects that all its students will act responsibly in their off-campus social conduct so as to reflect favorably upon themselves and the University community. Conduct which is disruptive to the neighborhood is clearly below the standards of behavior the University expects of its students.”

Brown said he was not aware of any “written expectations of what it is to be a student living off-campus.”

“Yes we should be good neighbors,” he said. “And to our knowledge, we were being good neighbors.”

DuBray said he felt the University was extending its reach.

“Why can’t South Bend handle South Bend and Notre Dame handle Notre Dame?” he said. “In my mind, what they’re worried about right now is just another image problem. They’re worried about the image being portrayed about their students – even if the South Bend police said you did everything right, and even if the majority of your neighbors agree with you, they’re still going to try and control every aspect of your life.”

Montgomery agreed.

“To us, its shocking that we were in any trouble at all,” Montgomery said. “Obviously we’re going to take what [the University] says very seriously – we’re students here, we respect their opinion. But the fact of the matter is, we feel unjustly treated.”

The letter also stated the residents were required to pay a $1,000 fine no later than Oct. 27 to the University.

On Oct. 6, DuBray received an e-mail from the Office of Residence Life, stating the seniors could work off the fine doing community service at the rate of $10 an hour. The deadline has been moved back to Dec. 1.

“The question is,” Brown said, “what did we do wrong? That ambiguity there – there definitely needs to be a change. If there is something in there that says, ‘we can’t do that,’ fine, we were wrong, but there is no explicit section.”

“We want to have a balanced college experience,” DuBray said. “We’re all very involved [in] extracurricular [activities] … you can have a decent time on weekends and be a productive student, and a productive member of the University.”

Montgomery told The Observer the entire situation has been a learning experience.

“Regardless of all this, it was a lesson on how to be a good neighbor,” he said.

“I think the bigger theme here,” Montgomery said, “is that we go to one of the premier universities in the country. If you want to raise adults, if you want raise leaders, you better start treating the students who go to your school like adults.

“We are not being treated like adults in this situation.”