Harassed on campus and dismissed by campus police officer, student claims

Kansas State University police assist during the football game against the University of Oklahoma in Manhattan, Kan. on Oct 21, 2017. (Photo by Cooper Kinley | Collegian Media Group)

A student senator at Kansas State claims to have been dismissed by campus police while attempting to file a harassment report.

In a written personal account emailed to campus leaders on Oct. 20, Ryan Kelly, student senator and sophomore in civil engineering, claimed that an officer from the K-State Police Department behaved unprofessionally on Oct. 19 when taking a report of Kelly’s claims of harassment at his apartment.

Kelly claimed to have been harassed as a result of comments he had made in a Collegian article the day prior, in which he stated that students of color are afraid to walk on campus. Kelly said he had received threats after the article was published and that multiple unknown individuals had come to his apartment looking for him, which Kelly said was unusual.

Kelly’s written statement identified Timothy L. Schrag as the officer who conducted the initial interview for the report. Jack Ayres, student body president and senior in chemical engineering, confirmed Schrag as the officer in question. Officer Schrag is not to be confused with Timothy J. Schrag, editor of K-State Magazine.

Kelly wrote that Schrag lacked empathy and immediately dismissed the “malicious” intent of the people harassing him during the initial interview for the harassment report. Kelly said Schrag cast immediate doubt on Kelly’s claims of harassment, attributing the alleged harassment to drunken college students looking for parties — despite the fact that Kelly does not live near a bar and lives on the third floor of a Jardine apartment building.

Schrag proceeded to discuss Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients and his presence at a rally in support of DACA recipients, Kelly wrote in the report. Kelly wrote that Schrag said he didn’t understand why “illegals are trying to make an issue out of a non-issue.”

Kelly said he felt like Schrag was giving an argument for why he should drop the report of harassment. At the conclusion of the interview, Kelly said he noticed Schrag had written his race as white on the police report. Kelly, the son of a black father and white mother, told Schrag he was black, to which Schrag replied with a comment along the lines of “you never know these days,” Kelly wrote in the report.

Kelly wrote that Schrag then remarked that his body camera had apparently run out of battery power and had not recorded the interview, before giving Kelly his card and the case number for the report.

After Schrag left, Kelly said he received a call from Schrag, who explained that his superior had told him he needed to conduct the interview again for the sake of accuracy.

During the follow-up conversation, Kelly said Schrag began speaking about racial tensions in policing, speaking about police officers who had been shot while on duty in cities across the country. Schrag also spoke on recent protests in the NFL and referenced his armed forces background. Kelly said he did not know why or how the conversation had digressed from his initial report of harassment.

Schrag then allegedly spoke “about the difficulty in reporting racial incidents as a police officer … [and] how sometimes it’s best not for him to report things to his higher-ups,” Kelly wrote.

“I began to ask for clarification, ‘So what you’re saying is that Chief Grice doesn’t get the whole story sometimes?'” Kelly wrote. “He never said he had covered up anything or didn’t report something explicitly, but he implied that’s what would happen if it was an ideal world. I then asked very bluntly, ‘Have you ever not reported a race-based incident?’ He went around the question and never really gave me a satisfactory answer.

“I felt like he posed a direct threat to me,” Kelly said in the statement.

After the interview for the harassment report, Kelly said he felt coerced by Schrag to not report the incident.

Schrag told Kelly he had 28 years of experience with the K-State Police. The Kansas Open Records Act does allow for access to police disciplinary records, but Kelly said in his emailed statement that he does not believe he was the first person to have filed a complaint against Schrag.

Jonathan Peuchen, speaker of the student senate and senior in mechanical engineering, was present with Kelly for the follow-up phone call from Schrag. Peuchen said Kelly’s fear of harassment was “rational” and that Kelly had spent the night of Oct. 19 in the Student Governing Association office.

“It is certainly something that should not be happening, especially at K-State,” Peuchen said.

Heather Reed, assistant vice president of student life, said an investigation into the officer’s behavior is currently underway. Reed also said she was informed that the officer in question was not currently at work, though what that precisely meant was unclear.

Officials from the K-State Police Department, including Chief Ronnie Grice, declined to comment or referred questions to the university’s Division of Communications and Marketing. Schrag himself declined to comment on the issue.

A week after the incident involving Kelly and Schrag, K-State News released a statement in response to questions from the Collegian. The statement read:

“K-State Police are committed to the safety of our students, faculty and staff. In response to questions we have received from the media, the following information explains how the university investigates concerns about an officer’s conduct.

“Policies and processes are in place to address allegations about police conduct and ensure that they are investigated thoroughly, fairly and professionally. But campus police do not share names and other details about individuals involved in particular matters due to student and personnel privacy laws.

“Following department policy, complaints about officer conduct are submitted to the Assistant Vice President of Public Safety and Chief of Police. A formal internal investigation is then conducted. The officer whose conduct is at issue in a complaint is notified of the complaint and pending investigation. At the conclusion of the investigation, findings are made, the officer is notified of those findings, appropriate action is taken if applicable and a complainant is informed of the findings by the Assistant Vice President. Resources and support also are provided to the community members involved.”

Kelly said the experience with Schrag left him feeling “vulnerable.”

“I wanted to be done with K-State,” Kelly said in his emailed statement. “I wanted to be in a space where I felt comfortable, accepted and welcome.”

Klarissa Calvillo, senior in psychology and gender, women and sexuality studies, said there are other students, herself included, who feel vulnerable on K-State’s campus.

“Just from a student perspective, I am Mexican, and I am a part of that population that is feeling that threat,” Calvillo said.

Ayres acknowledged the growing feelings of discomfort among minority students.

“The unfortunate reality is that some students don’t feel safe in the K-State Family,” Ayres said. “Those feelings of fear are valid. Community-wise, everybody needs to understand that students do feel this way.”

Jessica Kerr, academic coach and adjunct professor in the Staley School of Leadership Studies, said a contributing factor to this discomfort is the university’s response to controversial events on campus.

“We as a culture at large are starting to question the ability of our institutions to deal with issues of sexual violence, harassment and racism in our ranks,” Kerr said.

Reed said she has a lot of hope for the direction that campus is moving in, regarding student responses to controversial events.

“Students have been out front in condemning these things and our students are willing and expecting to … be really involved in helping this develop,” Reed said.

Kerr said she believes the idea of the K-State Family to be “aspirational” for the university but not necessarily indicative of how all students feel.

“One of the things that I think about when we talk about those Principles of Community is that they are things that we want, but might not necessarily be achieving,” Kerr said.

Reed said she believes that while many students may not feel safe within the K-State Family, the K-State Family has not been lost.

“I don’t think that we’ve lost the K-State Family at all,” Reed said. “I would never say that. In all of the responses, there’s been that reinforcement of, ‘That’s not who we are.'”

Kelly said he does not want his experience to turn students against the K-State Police.

“This should be seen as an opportunity to educate our police force and to improve community relations between campus police and the student body,” Kelly said.

I'm Monica Diaz and I graduated in May 2020 with a degree in broadcast journalism and Spanish. I severed in several roles while working for the Collegian, but most of my work focused on rebuilding the Collegian digital brand with an increased social media presence. I also worked on KKSU-TV and appeared as an anchor on MHK All Day in my last semester on campus. In my spare time, I enjoy a good cup of coffee and spending time with family. I have a passion for journalism because I believe that everyone deserves to have their voice heard.