Professor Arrested after Bomb Joke Bombs
I had a double take after seeing this Inside Higher Ed story in my feed:
A drama instructor at the University of California at Davis was arrested last week over a joking reference to student evaluations he had with him as “a bomb,” a remark that a few students took literally, The Sacramento Bee reported. Most of the students in the class signed a statement later saying that the instructor was clearly joking about how the evaluations might hurt his career. The instructor was jailed for four days before charges were dropped.
After my Whiskey Tango Foxtrot initial reaction, I clicked through to the link for details.
Two documents obtained by The Bee on Wednesday illustrate vastly different interpretations of what happened in a UC Davis acting class last week that led campus police to arrest an instructor and have him jailed for four days.
A University of California, Davis, police declaration supporting the arrest of James Marchbanks describes the fear three students reportedly felt when he presented an envelope holding end-of-course evaluations by saying, “I have a bomb.” “There was no expression of a smile or indicating he was joking,” a student told campus police, according to the declaration. “My stomach dropped and I felt my life flash before my eyes.”
But a letter reportedly signed by 13 other students in the class says Marchbanks was clearly using a figure of speech to present the documents that might “bomb” his career.
Marchbanks was released Tuesday from the Yolo County jail after prosecutors said they did not have enough information to decide whether he should be charged with a crime. They asked university police for a more complete report.
Marchbanks was wearing his backpack on one shoulder when he told his class, “I have a bomb, this is the last time I am ever going to see you. I am going to leave class before the bomb goes off but you are all going to stay here until it’s done,” according to the campus police declaration. “He unzipped the backpack and reached in … he pulled out the folder with his class evaluations and pencils and threw it on the ground and ran out the door without another word,” the declaration states.
Based on their statements Thursday, campus police on Friday asked a Yolo County judge for a warrant to arrest Marchbanks on suspicion of three crimes: making a terrorist threat, false imprisonment and making a false bomb threat, according to the police declaration.
The bail for those violations combined should be $55,000, according to the bail schedule posted on the Yolo Superior Court Web site.
Marchbanks’ bail was set at $150,000, but authorities could not explain Wednesday why his bail was so high. UC Davis Police Chief Annette Spicuzza said her department did not ask for enhanced bail and that he has no criminal past. Prosecutor Jonathan Raven said his office did not ask for enhanced bail. And a Yolo Superior Court spokeswoman said judges generally do not increase bail beyond the scheduled amount without a request from police or prosecutors.
One would think it would have been clear at some point early in the process that Marchbanks did not, in fact, have a bomb in his backpack. And, yet, he was jailed for four days? And they’re still trying to decide whether to charge him with a crime?!