Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

Columns

February 11, 2014

DAVE BANGERT: Purdue and accusations of student media intimidation

School won't be able to sweep aside journalist's account.

First things first: When it came to the shooting and stabbing death of a Purdue University student on campus Jan. 21, police on the scene did an amazing bit of work, shutting down any remaining threat efficiently and effectively. The West Lafayette campus was safer for the job they did.

But in the triage of the moment, as police officers surged to contain the Electrical Engineering Building, did securing the scene include a step across First Amendment lines when a photographer from a student newspaper got closer than officers either expected or cared to see?

We have one side with stark and disturbing details — of confiscated equipment, of detention and bullying of the photographer for hours. The other side isn’t offering its version just yet. An internal investigation comes first, in answer to the demands of The Exponent and pleas from national press groups. That, the university says, will take two weeks.

But the account offered by the student journalist amounts to a chilling bit of police control, even if it came during an intensely stressful situation — and even if there’s the possibility that it’s tempered by Purdue’s official context.

“I believe the photographer that it all happened,” said Pat Kuhnle, publisher of the Exponent, a student-run newspaper that covers Purdue but isn’t an official part of the university. “And I believe we have a real problem here — a pattern that has to stop.”

The situation started in tense moments on the eastern edge of campus, just after noon that Tuesday. One Purdue student, Cody Cousins, is suspected of going into a basement classroom of the Electrical Engineering Building and stabbing and shooting another student, Andrew Boldt. Boldt died in the attack. West Lafayette police arrested Cousins minutes later on a sidewalk along Northwestern Avenue.

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