April 4, 2002

University Releases Statement On CUPD Pepper Spray Incident

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The University released a statement yesterday on its review of the events surrounding the arrest of Herbert Cortez ’02 by the Cornell University Police Department.


CUPD began a internal review of the incident after members of the Cornell community and Cortez himself questioned the appropriateness of the CUPD’s use of pepper spray to subdue Cortez during the arrest. Some complained that CUPD’s actions were racially motivated.

“The senior members of the administration examined the internal review and concluded that the members of the Cornell Police acted appropriately on the night in question and that their actions were neither discriminatory nor disproportionate under the circumstances,” Henrik N. Dullea ’61, vice president for University relations, said in a news press release.

The CUPD arrested Cortez at his fraternity, Lambda Upsilon Lambda, at 3:30 a.m. on Jan. 27 after it had received a noise complaint. Cortez was charged with two counts of harassment in the second degree and one count of obstructing government administration.


In response to questions raised about the CUPD’s actions, senior administrators Harold D. Craft, vice president for administration and chief financial officer; Susan H. Murphy, vice president for student and academic affairs; Suzy Nelson, assistant dean of students for fraternity and sorority affairs; and William G. Boice, director of the CUPD, participated in an internal review of the incident.

Their review, which included the examination of the arresting officers’ reports, conversations with witnesses of the arrest and the assessment of the University’s Use of Force Policy, was concluded on March 5.

The review board decided that the arresting officers were justified in their use of pepper spray to subdue Cortez, according to Dullea.

“The police used pepper spray only after the student obstructed their entrance to the fraternity and a scuffle ensued,” he said. “While the use of pepper spray is an extremely infrequent event at Cornell, its use in this particular circumstance was regrettably appropriate.”

Dullea said he was not aware of the CUPD using pepper spray at any other University fraternities.

“The use of pepper spray is very rare,” he said. “But then again, so is pushing officers.”

The University refrained from publicizing the review board’s results to avoid influencing the charges against Cortez that were pending in Ithaca City Court, Dullea said.

“If we had come out with a statement, someone may have said it was in an attempt to influence what happened in court, so we held off,” he said.

The City Court adjourned the case on March 15, indicating that the charges against Cortez would be dropped if no other charges are filed against him during the next six months.

The University released its statement on the review board’s decision almost three weeks after the City Court had concluded Cortez’s case.

There was no particular reason why the University held its decision. “We were doing other things,” Dullea said.

Archived article by Stephanie Hankin