3rd student charged with felony in riots

University officials plan to meet next week to draft a policy related to riotous student behavior.

HBy Paul Sand and Rocky Thompson

Hennepin County prosecutors charged a third student with felony arson Tuesday in connection with the hockey riots.

First-year University student Jason Niehaus, 20, was charged with second-degree arson.

Prosecutors allege Niehaus threw a burning garbage can through the window of a parking lot booth on Fourth Street Southeast. University police identified him after receiving a phone call from a witness who recognized Niehaus from a photo posted on a University police Web site.

Replacing the booth will cost approximately $20,000.

Prosecutors claim Niehaus admitted throwing the flaming garbage can.

While police continue to track riot-related leads, University officials will meet early next week to draft an administrative policy relating to riotous student behavior, said June Nobbe, campus life administration director.

Nobbe will lead a small committee that will draft the policy and present it to the University Board of Regents in June.

The committee has contacted administrators at other institutions including the University of Maryland, Michigan State University and Ohio State University, to gain knowledge on the subject, Nobbe said.

The University’s current student conduct code will not be amended, Nobbe said. A new policy covering student behavior will be developed as a separate administrative code, which is covered under the conduct code, she said.

Nobbe said the group will explore the policy’s jurisdiction, including off-campus infractions. She said the group might follow policies drafted by other universities that refer to large-scale student disturbances, such as riots.

“That is definitely something we will be reviewing and discussing,” Nobbe said.

Minnesota Student Association President Josh Colburn said the new policy will make riotous student behavior easier to address.

Colburn, a member of the committee drafting the new policy, said he would support expanding the University’s conduct code to off-campus areas because students are representatives for the institution.

Colburn likened the University’s situation to an employer/employee relationship.

“If your employer finds out you did something illegal, you can’t expect to be going to that job much longer,” he said.

University General Counsel Mark Rotenberg said the new policy might address off-campus student behavior, but the conduct code will not.

“The University doesn’t purport to deal with adults and their behavior,” Rotenberg said.

Chuck Samuelson, Minnesota Civil Liberties Union executive director, said the University is only moving forward on the issue because of legislative pressure and an uncertain state funding future.

Samuelson said the University is pandering to an unsympathetic Legislature.

“This is an argument that the University of Minnesota cannot win and should not enter,” he said.

Other universities’ policies

After three riots in a two-year span, Pennsylvania State University initiated a change in its student conduct code in conjunction with new enforcement through local police.

Since then, Penn State has not had a major riot.

The biggest change Penn State made internally was its new policy toward off-campus misconduct.

The institution extended its code to include off-campus student conduct that affects a substantial university interest.

This is defined as conduct such as a criminal offense, threatening the health or safety of others, or anything detrimental to the university’s educational interests.

Joseph Puzycki, Penn State judicial affairs director, worked with town and campus police to change the code and discipline procedures aimed at holding students accountable for any misconduct.

The police also moved ahead with other initiatives aimed at controlling crowds.

At all special events, police presence is increased, especially in areas where the previous riots had started, Puzycki said.

Police who respond to the riots also go through additional crowd control training from a consultant in Miami, Puzycki said, with annual refreshers.

Puzycki said one of the most effective tools the university used to arrest rioters was previous videos and photos.

“This was very successful for the riots, and it sent a message to those involved that even if you don’t get arrested at the time of the riot, you may get arrested later,” he said.

University of Minnesota police have made a similar move by posting pictures of those they believe were involved in the riots and offering possible rewards for arson suspects.

University police have already cited one student for possession of stolen property and said more arrests will soon follow.

Puzycki said students arrested at a Penn State riot before its code change could have the code enforced on them depending on the seriousness of the violation.

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