Inset via Cornell Big Red

John Greenwood '20, a 19-year-old Cornell student, was arrested and charged with two misdemeanor charges, including assault, after a black student said he was punched in the face and called the N-word.

September 20, 2017

Police Identify White Cornell Student Arrested Following Assault of Black Cornell Student

Print More

This post has been updated.

Ithaca Police this week identified the Cornell student charged with two misdemeanors who they and witnesses say punched a black student in the face in Collegetown after yelling the N-word at him several times.

Police charged John P. A. Greenwood ’20, who is 19 and white, with third-degree assault and second-degree aggravated harassment after an altercation on Eddy Street that witnesses said left one student bloody and dizzy. Police are “reviewing the evidence that they have against the statutes that they have for a hate crime,” Mayor Svante Myrick ’09 said.

The victim, a junior and a member of Kappa Sigma who spoke to The Sun on the condition of anonymity, said he was coming home from a party when he noticed a group of people arguing with his friends in the driveway area of his residence. When he yelled for the people he did not know to leave, they began to walk away from the house, he said, before turning and yelling expletives and the N-word.

When the student confronted them, four or five white men began hitting him in the face, he told The Sun and police, according to documents filed in Ithaca City Court on Wednesday.

The arrested student, who also goes by Jack, played on the Cornell squash team, the team’s coach, David Palmer, confirmed to The Sun. Palmer said he cut Greenwood from the team on Sept. 11, preceding the Collegetown assault, because he had not been participating in team training on a regular basis.

Greenwood also may have been an underground member of Psi Upsilon, a fraternity that was suspended by the University in 2016, although the fraternity denies that Greenwood had any affiliation with Psi Upsilon.

Multiple members of Cornell’s men’s and women’s squash teams declined to comment. One member of the men’s team said he was “told not to talk about it” shortly before hanging up on a reporter on Tuesday night.

Greenwood said in a statement on Wednesday that the words he used were “unacceptable and inappropriate” and apologized for what he called “abhorrent” language. He did not refer to the assault charge, but his lawyer, Ray Schlather J.D. ’76, said Greenwood was “in no way involved in any physical altercation of any kind.”

Ithaca Police quoted the victim as saying he was positive Greenwood was “definitely one of the guys that jumped me. “

“I know for sure it was him,” the victim said of Greenwood, according to police.

When police asked the victim shortly after the assault why he thought he was targeted, he said he believed it was because he is black.

“I have a pretty good idea,” he told police, according to court documents. “They were calling me ‘Nigger,’ so I believe it was because of the color of my skin.”

Greenwood grew up in Toronto and attended Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts for high school, according to an archived version of a now-deleted sports profile on the Cornell athletics website. The player’s online squash profile was removed on Saturday, Jeremy Hartigan, a spokesperson for the Athletics Department, said. Police did not release a mugshot.

Alumni of the Psi Upsilon fraternity’s chapter at Cornell have denied accusations that its members were responsible for the assault, but a set of online flashcards seems to indicate that Psi Upsilon was secretly recruiting members while it was suspended by the University.

The flash cards, now deleted, are titled “Brothers,” and list Cornell students, their nicknames and hometowns, some of which The Sun was able to confirm with other social media profiles. On one card labeled “Doxology” is the phrase, “Oh God, Thy blessings now shed down / Upon our loved Psi Upsilion [sic].”

A Cornell student whose name matches that of the username managing the online flashcards — which were created in February of 2017 and are now deleted — blocked a Sun reporter on Facebook within 10 minutes of the reporter attempting to connect with the student.

Thomas Fox, executive director of the Psi Upsilon Fraternity’s International Office, said the group’s investigation had found that some members of the Cornell chapter, which the University suspended in May of 2016, had been secretly recruiting new members. The Executive Council of Psi Upsilon chose to extend the suspension of the fraternity at Cornell until at least the fall of 2020,

The Psi Upsilon alumni Board of Governors is immediately shuttering its fraternity at Cornell indefinitely and will allow its building to be used by student organizations that are “dedicated to promoting a diverse and inclusive student community” once scheduled renovations are complete “in 2018-19,” the University said.

Three witnesses who provided statements to Ithaca Police gave similar accounts of the incident, according to the court records filed on Wednesday.

One Cornell student said he saw the junior arguing with a group of men and encouraged him to return to his house on Eddy Street. As they moved away from the argument, one person followed them up to the steps of the porch, the first witness said, and when the witness told the man to leave, the man shoved him twice, the witness said.

The group of men began walking away from the house and “towards their place next door.” Two students, speaking anonymously out of fear for their safety, identified the residence at 306 Eddy St. — where police responded to the Friday morning 911 call regarding a fight — as Psi Upsilon’s unofficial annex. No one answered the door at the residence over the weekend on two separate days.

The first witness said the group of men was leaving when a white man in the group with “black wavy hair” yelled the N-word several times. The witness did not see the following altercation, but said he “heard a loud pop” and walked up the sidewalk to check on his friend — the junior Cornell student identified as the victim.

The witness said he saw the junior “walking funny, kind of staggering or swaying as he walked,” and that his shirt was soaked in blood from his nose. The witness helped clean the junior up and laid him down, after which the student complained of pain in his head and face. The junior previously told The Sun that he went to Cayuga Medical Center to test for a broken nose and concussion, of which he had neither.

A second witness said in a statement to Ithaca Police that a man in a white shirt “slapped me in the face and knocked some food I had out of my hand” after calling him the N-word and a variation of the epithet. The witness appears to be the same student who is arguing with two white men in a video obtained by The Sun on Friday.

Mirroring details in the victim’s and the first two witnesses’ accounts, a third witness said a man in a white button-up shirt came onto the porch of the victim’s house and shoved the other witness when he tried to get the man to leave. The man in the white shirt and two others left and began walking up the hill, the third witness said, when he yelled the N-word.

After the altercation, the victim “was bleeding from his nose area” and “had a lot of blood on his shirt and all over his face,” the third witness told police.

Greenwood is scheduled to be arraigned in Ithaca City Court at 9 a.m. on Sept. 27.