North Carolina

UNC Police arrest employee for trying to stop active-shooter training she says was ‘unsafe’

UNC campus rally against racism and police violence ends with broken window

A rally on the UNC campus Wednesday at which students spoke against the way campus police have handled clashes between pro- and anti-Confederate-monument groups ended with the breaking of glass at South Building.
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A rally on the UNC campus Wednesday at which students spoke against the way campus police have handled clashes between pro- and anti-Confederate-monument groups ended with the breaking of glass at South Building.

UNC Police, under heavy criticism from student activists and some faculty, arrested a university employee who was trying to stop an active-shooter training exercise Wednesday evening.

And on Thursday, campus police charged a protester who had broken a window the day before.

Amber Mathwig, UNC’s student veteran assistant coordinator, was charged Wednesday night with trespassing and with resisting, obstructing or delaying police. Police say she happened onto a police training exercise near her office and tried to get officers to stop it because she thought it was endangering others.

Mathwig was taken before a magistrate in Hillsborough and released on a promise to appear in court on May 9. She was ordered to stay off the UNC campus.

Later, Mathwig said, she was told by her supervisor that she had been suspended with pay until further notice.

Randy Young, spokesman for UNC Police, confirmed the charges against Mathwig. He said the training was valuable and did not involve live weapons.

Mathwig, of Carrboro, said she has worked at UNC for four years. Her office, within the university’s Department of Student Affairs, helps UNC’s 250 to 300 student veterans transition to college life, navigate their federal benefits through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and provides them a space on campus to meet with one another.

Mathwig said she has attended many campus protests since last year at which students have complained about UNC’s treatment of minorities throughout its history. The protests have centered on Silent Sam, UNC’s monument to the Confederacy, but have grown to include other issues such as how police treat student protesters versus how they handle pro-monument protesters.

Mathwig said she attended a campus-wide rally held Wednesday afternoon.

Later, she said, she was leaving campus for the day when she saw UNC Police vehicles as well as those from Orange County Emergency Services and the Chapel Hill Fire Department, along with several dozen police officers, some carrying training rifles, near her building in Odom Village. Mathwig was in the Navy for 10 years, she said, where she served as a law enforcement officer, and soon recognized the gathering as a training exercise.

Odom said she parked her car and went back into her office, which is open until 7 p.m on Wednesdays and later for those with access cards, to tell people to stay inside.

She went back outside, she said, with at least two students following her, and sat down on some steps to watch the exercise.

Almost immediately, she said, “I heard simulated rounds being fired in the building behind me.”

A Chapel Hill firefighter told her she needed to leave, she said, “Because they were in training and it was unsafe.

“I said, ‘I know, that’s why I’m here. You need to stop.’”

Mathwig said there were people in the building where she works, that there are often children in that building with their parents, and that pedestrians come and go through the area frequently. Police were firing simulated rounds, which are bullet-shaped projectiles that while not lethal can cause bruising “and can break windows,” she said.

No one had notified her or her department that the training was scheduled, she said. It’s not clear whether any advance notice of the training was issued to the campus in general.

Mathwig said police suspended the exercise and officers came over to tell her to leave. When she refused, she was arrested.

Mathwig tweeted about the incident and posted an account online. She said that some UNC officers know her from campus protests.

“I believe they were retaliating against me,” she said, by arresting her Wednesday.

In response to questions about the incident, Young said in an email that in addition to their Basic Law Enforcement Training, UNC police get 48 hours of in-service training per year, twice what is required by the state. That includes classroom and practical training, he said, such as crowd control and emergency response.

“Training exercises provide UNC Police with valuable learnings about our efforts to keep the campus safe,” he said.

Young said Wednesday’s training involved an active-shooter scenario with other local agencies in an empty building in Odum Village.

Meanwhile on Thursday, Young said, Calvin K. Deutschbein was charged with misdemeanor injury to real property for breaking a window at South Building the day before. University officials said the window was broken when protesters came to South Building to try to present a list of demands to the administration. The building was closed, and they knocked on doors and windows.

UNC interim Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz has formed a Campus Safety Commission that will hold its first meeting next week, and has hired a former FBI assistant director to review recent incidents involving UNC Police.

UNC Police Chief Jeff McCracken announced earlier this month that he will retire July 1.

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Martha Quillin is a general assignment reporter at The News & Observer who writes about North Carolina culture, religion and social issues. She has held jobs throughout the newsroom since 1987.


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