Harris Stowe security guard decks 59-year-old St. Louisan

2:03 PM, May 4, 2012   |    comments
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By Leisa Zigman I-Team Reporter

St. Louis (KSDK) - The time honored American tradition of leafleting is steeped in history and is one of the oldest forms of free speech.

So, when a security guard at Harris Stowe State University punched a 59-year-old St. Louisan and had him arrested for trespassing and assault, the I-Team's Leisa Zigman started digging for answers.

Almost every day you can hear 59-year-old Richard Hershey asking college students, "Would you like info to help animals?" The former state social worker now spends his time handing out leaflets about animal cruelty from an organization called Vegan Outreach.

In September, he says he walked up to a security check point at Harris Stowe State University in St. Louis to get permission to be on campus. He says he was directed to a main office where he claims Annette Curdt, Director of Student Activities, gave him her business card and permission to be on campus.

Hershey says he spent about 40 minutes handing out booklets when guards approached and told him to leave.

"I was doing it on public property, a state university where I had obtained authorization to do exactly what I was doing and in the area I was doing it," said Hersey.

Campus security camera video obtained by the I-Team, shows Hershey giving the guards what appears to a business card. He says it was the card he received from Curdt.

Six seconds later he's on the ground with Sgt. Chris Givens, the guard who threw the punch, twisting and tugging his leg.

Bob Hermann is an attorney representing Hershey and is considering legal action against the university.

When he saw the video he said, "That is not the action of a security guard. That is not the action of a police officer. That is the action of a thug with a badge."

That is one side of the story: Harris Stowe officials refused our request for an on camera interview. But they did provide their version of events in an e-mail.

What officials did not know is that the I-Team had the original school incident report and the police narrative.

The new information had glaring omissions; any reference to Annette Curdt and whether she granted Hershey permission to be on campus.

When the I-Team called Curdt, she explained she was not allowed to talk speak about the incident.

According to the police report, the chief of security, Howard Richards, stated he and officer Givens tried to escort Hershey off property when Hershey began to twist his body and jerk his arm.

Richards, who used to work for the CIA, told police he did not see how Hershey ended up on the ground because he was standing slightly in front of them.

If you look at the security camera video frame by frame, it appears the chief is looking right at Hershey and Sgt. Givens. And before Hershey hits the ground, the chief holds out his arm and appears to try to gesture Sgt. Givens to back off.

Hershey is 5' 8" tall. According to the police report Sgt. Givens stated Hershey was trying to strike him and he feared for his safety. That is when he punched Hershey in the forehead.

If you look at the video frame by frame, Sgt. Givens has his left arm on Hershey's shirt. Hershey appears to be walking away when he turns and raises his arm backwards. About the same time Sgt. Givens appears to rear back and let loose.

"There is no recognized security and police procedure which involves a security guard or police officer punching somebody in the face," said Bob Hermann.

Mike Wichtman, a retired 30 year veteran with St. Louis County Police now teaches security guard training at the police academy. His class repeats one constant about the use of force.

"We always emphasize the minimal amount of force necessary. Obviously, the best amount of force is no force, because nobody gets injured," said Wichtman.

Harris Stowe officials said no investigation was needed because everything was captured on tape and no disciplinary measures were taken against any security guard.

Hershey spent 26 hours in police custody. The city refused to prosecute and the case is now closed.

We recently caught up with Hershey on the public sidewalk outside of St. Louis University. Security guards gave him a much different reception.

They shook hands and Hershey said, "Hey, take care." The security guard responded, "You too, sir."

We are told Sgt. Chris Givens is not related to Harris Stowe University President Emeritus Dr. Henry Givens.

While some universities require notice to leaflet or protest, others like the University of Missouri, welcome members of the public on to an area called "the speaker's circle." No permit or permission is needed.

The Harris Stowe University policy is: "The Harris-Stowe State University Office of Campus Public Safety is committed to ensuring that HSSU, an urban campus located in the heart Midtown St. Louis, remains one of the safest environments for our students, faculty and staff. Our 24-hour public safety operation includes officers who are responsible for making sure that all visitors are checked in and noted accordingly, and that anyone who may be soliciting on campus, has been given permission to do so. Any and all literature must be pre-approved by the Office of Student Affairs and validated with an official campus stamp," said Executive Director of Institutional Security Howard Richards

We wanted to know about policy at other Universities. Here is what we found:

Truman State University doesn't have a policy. A spokesperson said, as long as you don't have a megaphone and are not screaming at people, hand to hand passing out pamphlets is fine.

KU approves of public leafleting as long as you're not setting up a table and you're not in an area that says "no soliciting."

At Louisiana State there is a designated spot called "Free Speech Alley." Anyone can go there and hand out leaflets and promote events.

Southern Illinois University Edwardsville has a policy that if you are handing out a leaflet you have to have a university stamp approving it.

Fontbonne, Maryville, UMSL, and SLU, do not allow non-student leafleting.

MSU requires pre-approval.

Bradley; you have to pay a $50 fee to be on campus at the student center. You can't just walk around campus and hand out pamphlets.

KSDK

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