Department of Education reviewing Eastern Michigan U. campus crime procedures

MICHIGAN — The U.S. Department of Education is reviewing Eastern Michigan University after school administrators failed to alert the campus community that a woman had been murdered in her dormitory room.

A university custodian found Laura Dickinson, 22, dead in her Hill Hall room Dec. 15, 2006. Area newspapers reported that she was naked from the waist down, a pillow covered her head and traces of semen were found on her leg.

The school issued a release Dec. 16 announcing that she had passed away unexpectedly, but it said there was “no reason to suspect foul play,” according to the timeline posted on the university Web site. It issued subsequent releases Dec. 18 and Jan. 12 to update students. Neither release gave a cause of death or mentioned a homicide investigation.

Ten weeks later, police arrested Orange Taylor III, another EMU student, on charges of homicide, two counts of sexual criminal conduct, larceny and home invasion in connection with Dickinson’s death.

Her family and EMU students and parents were outraged to learn that Dickinson’s death was a homicide, and many accused school officials of staging a cover-up.

University President John Fallon made his first public statement about the death June 19 at a meeting of the board of regents.

“Never again will such a confounding series of mistakes be made on my watch,” he said.

The U.S. Department of Education is examining the university for violations of the federal Jeanne Clery Act, which requires all public and private colleges and universities that participate in federal financial aid programs to release information about campus crime and safety. It was named after Jeanne Clery, who was beaten, raped and murdered in her dormitory room at Lehigh University in April 1986.

The department will release an initial review to the school in the next few weeks, and the school will have an opportunity to respond before a public statement is released, said a department spokeswoman.

Daniel Carter, senior vice president of Security on Campus Inc., a Clery Act watch-dog organization that the Clery family started, said he expects the department’s review to be released in about a month.

“I anticipate by the end of the month that the department of education will find [the university] in violation [of the Clery Act] on multiple counts,” Carter said.

Since the inception of the act in 1990, the department has conducted hundreds of reviews, but only three schools have been fined, Carter said. This investigation is the “fastest, most-quickly completed” review the department has conducted, largely because of “how serious it is,” he added.

In addition to the department’s review, the university hired an attorney to conduct an independent investigation. The 568-page report released last week said “the university failed in multiple respects to properly comply with the various policy and reporting requirements under the Clery Act.”