Florida college punishes student reporter for failing to leave suicide scene

FLORIDA — Dylan Bouscher, editor-in-chief of Florida Atlantic University’s newspaper, the University Press, was surprised to be summoned to his school’s student conduct office earlier this month and hit with four disciplinary charges related to refusing a police order to leave a crime scene.

“I don’t believe I was near a crime scene or on a crime scene,” he said.

Bouscher had been driving the newspaper’s golf cart near the site of a suicide on campus last month, he said, and had hung around trying to get information and photos for his story until an officer yelled at him to leave.

FAU police officer Robert Vickens said Bouscher approached on foot even after being ordered to leave.

“I halted the golf cart and advised Bouscher and (a passenger) that they were within the boundaries of the crime scene, and lawfully ordered them to leave immediately,” Vickens said in his report.

Bouscher says he was on public ground and doesn’t believe he did anything wrong, but on Tuesday he accepted two charges in order to have another two dismissed. He said he compromised because he was concerned he might face criminal repercussions if he did not and also because he wanted to protect his newspaper from future disruption from the university.

He said the student conduct office asked for the name of a student reporter who was in the golf cart with him, but he declined to give her name to them.

A representative from FAU’s communications office said the office would not comment on Bouscher’s case because it’s confidential under FERPA, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

“I would have loved to have had a civil rights battle and lawsuit, that would have been a lot of fun,” Bouscher said. “(But) it seemed like a gamble, or at least riskier than accepting the… charges.”

Alicia Calzada, an attorney with the National Press Photographers Association, said police generally can’t stop people from being in public places or taking photos there, even if a crime occurred in the vicinity.

“They can ask you to leave if your presence is interfering with their investigation,” she said. “Just the fact they’re annoyed with you is not a reason for them to ask you to leave.”

As part of his punishment, Bouscher said he will be required to complete 24 hours of community service and take an “ethics in decision-making” class that costs $100. He will also be on probation for a year.

“But that doesn’t interfere with my ability to be involved on campus,” he said.

Michael Koretzky, a volunteer adviser for the University Press, said FAU has a history of “intimidating” students into accepting disciplinary charges.

“Dylan is not the first, second, third or fourth student brought up on student conduct charges this year for speech-related issues,” Koretzky said. He gave an example of students who faced charges for holding a protest, even though they had left when police had asked them to do so.

Bouscher said he thought it was unfair that the investigation, judgment and sanction were all carried out by FAU’s Dean of Student Conduct.

“I don’t think that power should belong to one person,” he said.

By Samantha Sunne, SPLC staff writer. Contact Sunne by email or at (703) 807-1904 ext. 123.