Reversing the course of their previous withholding, the University of Mary Washington has decided to release the phone records related to a false emergency report President Judy Hample filed with campus police last fall.
The approximately 3-minute long audio recording depicts Hample asking for police assistance from the top level of the parking deck. She describes a man in an athletic jersey harassing her and two other women. Her tone becomes increasingly anxious until the call ends. A man then informs police over the phone that the call is a test.
Earlier this month, UMW told the Bullet and Frederickburg’s Free Lance-Star, which had sought the records under the Freedom of Information Act, that it would not release audio or video records, citing Va. Code Ann. 2.2-3706(F)(1)), that evidence related to a criminal investigation are exempt from the provisions of the act.
“Ultimately, the evidence gathered pertaining to last fall’s safety walk did not result in a criminal charge,” the denial letter said. “This fact does not diminish the fact that the recording which you requested is evidence related to a criminal investigation.”
At a campus safety walk in September 2009, Hample made a call from an emergency phone located on campus claiming she was being assaulted. The false alarm set campus police, who did not know it was only intended as a test by the president, scrambling to respond.
The uproar around the call, reported in the Bullet on Oct. 7, 2009, resulted in stories appearing in other newspapers across the state and became one of the most visible acts of Hample’s 18-month presidency. Last week, Hample said she planned to resign, effective June 30. She said her resignation, however, was unrelated to the disputed phone call.
In a Bullet interview with Hample, she had said that the university’s legal council withheld the records.
“It is not Judy Hample denying these. It is not Rick Hurley denying these. It is not even our campus police denying these,” she had said before the records were released.
George Farrar, the associate vice president of university relations and director of communications, explained why the university changed their decision.
“We thought we should hold [the audio records] based on our council’s advice,” Farrar said. “We misinterpreted our council.”
The release of the records came one day after the Student Press Law Center, a press-advocacy group based in Arlington, Virginia, reported on its Web site that the Bullet was seeking legal representation after open record requests for a mock “emergency” phone call made by Hample were denied.
Executive Director for the Student Press Law Center, Frank LoMonte, said that there was no rationale for the documents to stay confidential since the criminal investigation is closed and there was never a prosecution.
Download Hample Safety Walk Audio