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Cover Up

Was this a Coverup?

ACCESS AND DENIAL -- THE CHECKS AND BALANCES MONITORING A COLLEGE CAMPUS

by Barbara Prentice

Published May 1999 in the Graduate Review, Amherst, MA, and addressed to Adam's undergraduate class at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA.

As the class of 1999 prepares to graduate this May, it pains me to think of how this class was robbed of a brilliant, moral, sensitive, disciplined classmate and gentleman—without ever having recognized their loss! All mothers would prefer to remember a deceased child with such reverence; in truth, as reflected by the horrific events in Littleton, Colorado, earlier this week, all mothers can't.

What can we then, regardless of our age, ethnic, religious, or economic background, do to prevent these tragedies from recurring?

To answer this questionwhile teaching myself how to live without Adam, I have adopted a new code of ethics on behalf of his memory. I call it the three "big C's" -- "conviction, commitment and courage." As I share my story with you in the hope of preventing it from becoming someone else's story, please keep my "three big C's" in mind.

Conviction

Commitment

Adam Gabriel Prentice

Courage

On September 27, 1997, Barnstable resident Adam G. Prentice, a 4.0 honors computer systems Engineering junior at The University of Massachusetts, Amherst (UMass/Amherst), died tragically three hours after suffering a suspicious injury on campus. According to both autopsy results and Adam's death certificate, the cause of his death was due to "a stab wound of glassto the back, causing massive loss of blood."

At 1:30 a.m. that morning, Adam was found collapsed and blood-soaked on the grass in front of the greenhouses next to the Morrill Science Department. He was discovered by officers from the University of Massachusetts police department (UMPD) who had responded to an intrusion alarm tripped inside one of the buildings in the greenhouse behind him.

Adam was moaning, writhing, barely conscious, and talking incoherently. He was impaled in the back by what police noted to be a dark-colored shard of glass. They also noted "an odor of alcoholic beverage" and, on radio transmissions, they described him to the Amherst Fire Department (AFD) dispatcher as an "intoxicated" male, in spite of the fact that no toxicology or field tests had been given at this time. They mentioned secondarily that Adam was "bleeding profusely by what appeared to be a stab wound—possibly a knife wound," and they requested an ambulance.

Though Adam was described as "mumbling," he spoke clearly enough to have been quoted as saying, "it wasn't my fault."

According to their own reports, while searching the greenhouses for other suspects, police discovered a broken glass panel in the roof of one of the greenhouses, and another panel smashed through the side of an adjacent greenhouse. They speculated that Adam may have been attempting to break and enter into the building with malicious intent to destroy property. Adam was a disciplined athlete and had never tried or taken drugs of any kind; however, one police officer went so far as to theorize in the police report that he may have intended to steal a plant light to grow marajuana.

Because no witnesses came forward at the moment of Adam's discovery, campus police determined that he was alone without investigating further. They cleaned the crime scene without preserving it or securing any forensic evidence whatsoever. Before Adam had even died, the greenhouses had been scrubbed, scoured, washed, and wiped down so meticulously that friends of Adam's searching the site for answers later that day could only find a few boards secured over the broken panels, which were also replaced later that day.

UMPD reports note that responding officers were aware Adam was impaled. AFD reports mention that "police say Adam may have been cut by glass." Even though the emergency triage plan for Western Massachusetts clearly states in writing that anyone impaled or bleeding from a soft-tissue injury should be medevaced immediately to the nearest trauma center, Adam was instead taken to Cooley Dickinson Hospital by ambulance, attended by one EMT, while the paramedic (the higher ranked of the two) drove the ambulance. En route, Adam went into shock and responded typically by ripping out his intravenous lines. The EMT stated that he was alone with Adam and couldn't re-establish his fluids.

Meanwhile, back at the scene, fifteen officers and two ambulances had responded to this intrusion alarm. Why then, was the ambulance understaffed?

While undergoing X-rays at Cooley Dickinson, in spite of his impalement, Adam was placed in a semi-upright position. I can only imagine in horror how much deeper the shard must have been driven when he was forced to sit up while impaled. Approximately 1 1/2 hours after his arrival, Adam suffered a cardiac arrest from loss of blood. Personnel attempted to stabilize him, (though reports indicate that he was not stable), as they prepared to transfer him by ambulance again to Bay State Medical Center, the trauma center he should have been taken to in the first place.

En route, Adam suffered another cardiac arrest and was defibrillated in the ambulance. Upon arrival, in a dramatic effort to revive him, the trauma team at Bay State cracked his chest open and performed open heart massage. It was too late. Adam Prentice, who had just turned 21 six weeks earlier, was pronounced dead seven minutes after arrival.

Adam was conscious until the last half hour. It took three agonizing hours for him to bleed to death.

He had never been given a blood transfusion.


We were never notified about Adam by officials at UMass. or Cooley Dickinson Hospital. We were not notified until BayState called to inform us that our son was dead.

Officials at UMass. said initially that they "hadn't identified Adam positively" yet. However, at 2:30 a.m. that morning, almost two hours before Adam's death, officials at the UMPD had identified him well enough to have completed a criminal records check on him (CORI), which identified his Mother's name and address as the next of kin. Adam himself had given them his name, social security number, address, and birthdate while at Cooley Dickinson. His Fall '97 College ID was in his back pocket, but no one had ever bothered to look for it.

After the initial shock of losing Adam so senselessly, I wanted to pull the covers over my head and never wake up. I may have succeeded, had those who knew and loved Adam in my community not encouraged me to seek answers to the many unanswered questions regarding his death. These questions far outweigh the speculative theorizing of the UMPD and UMass. administration. As I list these questions, I implore you to assist me in my quest for finding truthful answers. By working together, perhpas we can prevent another unnecessary tragedy.

Is the UMPD really held to the same standards as a sworn police department?

The UMPD refers to itself as a "sworn police force." If this is true, what objective party or external agency is authorized to hold them accountable when they mishandle a case? If a municipal police force is accountable to citizens and town administrators, to whom must the campus police department answer to?

Sadly, the campus police department answers to the University administrators themselves--a direct conflict of interest to the safety of all prospective or enrolled students. How can an institution governed by a "double agenda" — that of their reputation as a "safe haven" for students versus the physical safety of the students themselves — prioritize student safety if their college is perceived by potential recruits and their parents as an institution riddled with crime — from rape, assault, and theft to shootings, stabbings, and suspicious deaths?

What is the outcome of this double agenda, and how does it effect you? Like Adam's tragedy, far too many suspicious injuries and deaths are dismissed abruptly without proper investigation as "alcohol or drug-related." This, after all, puts the onus and responsibility on the student, and diminishes the responsibility of the college as "parentis en situ." When the public is informed that "alcohol or drugs" were involved in an alleged crime or death on campus, the incident is immediately dismissed as another stupid prank by an intoxicated kid — a tragedy, but dismissed and forgotten, as another stupid act by a drunk kid. Why? Because the police said so. Additionally, the public relations office at the university has fed the media the same script, so now the media says so, too. Sadly, if both the police and the papers say so, our culture is naive enough to believe that it must be so.

As mentioned earlier, the cause of Adam's death was a "stab wound by glass, causing massive blood loss." Alcohol was not even mentioned as a contributing factor to his death in any way whatsoever. The statements released to the media portraying Adam's death as alcohol-related were actually issued by the UMASS spokesperson for Public Affairs at the request of Chancellor Scott himself. He later used the "alcohol-related death of Adam Prentice" to rewrite his code of conduct and alcohol abuse policies — in spite of the factual cause of death.

The UMPD Chief of Police John Luippold also used the Medical Examiner's statement that Adam's blood alcohol level was "above the legal limit for intoxication" to drive in Massachusetts as "evidence" that Adam's death was "alcohol-related," even though it was only .12 — the equivalent of four or five beers — above the legal limit to drive, but Adam wasn't driving, and his blood alcohol level (BAL) was by no means high enough to impair his walking. To put this BAL into perspective, two of the students who died from alcohol poisoning in the Fall of 1997 had registered BALs of .40 and .69.

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UMPD Speculations Full of Holes

What is the probability that Adam could have fallen through a greenhouse roof only 5 feet in height and landed onto an 8-inch glass shard measuring a depth of only 1/4 of an inch wide? Did it just happen to be standing upright, awaiting the impact of his body?

Many close to the case wonder if Adam was ever even in the building? After all, he was discovered outside, and was never identified by anyone as having been seen inside. As stated earlier, Adam's BAL was only .12 — slightly above the legal limit of .08 in Massachusetts to drive a motor vehicle, but Adam wasn't driving, and he was twenty-one years old. Yet, police hold onto this slightly elevated BAL and insist, without basing their assumptions on any evidence whatsover, that it was the cause of the greenhouse incident.

To accept the account of Adam's death fabricated by the UMPD as "purely alcohol-related" is the same as saying that any individual who has just consumed a few drinks over dinner at a restaurant who is stabbed to death in the parking lot upon leaving died from an "alcohol-related" incident because that person had just drank something alcoholic. This is a preposterous theory — the two events are simply unrelated.

Why Were Adam's Constitutional Rights Violated? Who Will Be Next?

Upon discovering Adam blood-soaked, pale, and moaning on the ground in the center of campus, police determined that he was alone. It was 1:29 a.m. on 9/27/97. In spite of initial police reports that a second person was seen and believed to be inside of the greenhouse when Adam was found outside, police made this determination because no one stepped forward at the moment of Adam's discovery. Not one witness jumped out of the dark to say, "I pushed him, we chased him, we dared him, we saw him, we threw him." Police made this determination before daylight could reveal any clues hidden by dark, before issuing pleas to the public to come forward with any information, and after releasing a statement seeking information, but saying simultaneously that they believed Adam had been alone.

What assumption did police base this determination on? What factual evidence confirmed this assumption? Police state that Adam was slurring his words. Did they base his word-slurring on sobriety testsconducted in the field, or did they merely conclude that he was a typical UMASS student up to no good on Homecoming Weekend? Did they base their conclusion on a preconceived perception of you, the student? How would they have talked had they been impaled by an 8-inch glass dagger?

Was it incomprehensible for them to imagine that Adam may have been victimized? Why did they choose to suspect, rather than protect? Why did they choose to believe that his incoherence indicated that he was drunk, rather than in shock from the eight-inch dagger impaled through him? Why did three officers choose to restrain him, rather than to follow basic first aid procedures required of a "sworn police force?" Doesn't such protocol specifically request to never, never move a victim when the rescuer is unaware of how the injury occurred? Why was UMASS listed as the No. 1 victim in Adam's police report? Why was Adam suspected of breaking and entering a building that was government property when he lay dying in front of them?

And why is Adam described physically in the police report as being "5'10", 160 pounds, and dark-skinned?" Adam was 5'3", 130 pounds, Caucasian and, by their own reports, "very pale."

Why did the UMPD determine that Adam was guilty until proven innocent? Doesn't our Constitution state that we are innocent until proven guilty? What was Adam guilty of — being a young male of unknown identity? Is this the only evidence the UMPD needed to make their determination? Would Chancellor Scott, or Chief Luippold's wife, have been treated this way had they been discovered bleeding and moaning in front of the greenhouses? Or any woman, for that matter? How would a male minority student have been treated?


In truth, Adam was anyone BUT the poster boy for alcohol abuse that the University of Massachusetts in Amherst likes to portray him as. His record in itself confirms this — one cannot maintain a 4.0 in honors computer systems Engineering while working on campus as a lifeguard and have the time to "abuse alcohol." This is outrageous, and I will continue to work at changing a system so obviously against the rights of those it serves by:

  • Writing articles about campus crime.
  • Speaking on issues regarding campus crime and cover up.
  • Petitioning to remove Adam's case from the hands of a "double-agenda" police department.
  • Working for legislative changes to improve the caliber of campus police departments. Without an outside monitoring system to review these departments, how can we determine whether their actions are law-abiding, or lawless?

Why So Many Questions?

  • Continue to go through the appeals process to obtain information denied that is rightfully mine — from records and reports to the clothes my son wore that night, which are still in the custody of the UMPD, even though the case is "inactive."
  • Determine through experts how Adam could have crashed twice through glass and only receive one cut, scratch or scrape on his body, which was described as a "stab wound."
  • Determine if body fluids alone can remove white paint from glass. The glass pulled from Adam during his autopsy was clear, but the glass at the greenhouse roof is painted white.
  • Determine how the same person can be seen running through a greenhouse in a white tee shirt when he is lying unconscious outside of the greenhouse in a blood-soaked tee shirt? The first responding officer states clearly in his report that, upon finding Adam blood-soaked in the grass, someone else in a white shirt was running through the greenhouse.
  • Determine why 12 to 15 officers from four different departments — the UMPD, Amherst Police Department, Massachusetts State Police Department, and Campus Security Officers, would all respond to an intrusion alarm at a greenhouse at 1:30 a.m. during Homecoming weekend? What is so valuable inside that it would need that much projection? Are computers, confidential records, or money kept at the greenhouses? Or was there something else awry in the area? Police reports state that the MSP had just stopped a vehicle for drugs, and a fraternity party with over 500 students were noted to have been partying in the street in front of the greenhouse; some were even seen trying to climb on top of it two hours before, when Adam was still at his dorm!
  • If such a fleet of officers responded to save my son, then why was he treated criminally? Why weren't medical procedures and the emergency triage plan followed? Why was he sent in the wrong direction, by the wrong transportation source, and in an ambulance without enough man power to keep him restrained, when so much manpower had responded?
  • If I wasn't notified of Adam's death because he hadn't been identified, why does the police report itself state that he'd verbally identified himself, and that a CORI check had confirmed his identity, as well as mine?
  • If it is not police or University protocol to notify parents when students who live on campus are injured or die on campus, then where are copies of this protocol? I have asked for both UMPD and University protocol in writing repeatedly over the last nine months, most recently just two days ago. As Adam's mother, an alumna of the university, and a tax payer who contributes to the salaries of this sworn police force, do I not have the right to review such written policies? This request was even made to the District Attorney's office; yet, still no protocol.
  • Who is accountable for malicious destruction of evidence by cleaning the crime scene without preserving it? What standards would a municipal police force be held to if this had happened off campus?
  • I was told by Chief Luippold that the scene was cleaned without preserving it because officers determined Adam was alone — thus, they initiated the University Biohazard policy in compliance with OSHA regulations. Is OSHA more important to this force than the Constitutional Rights of a student? Was it discrimination, negligence, or deliberate? Was it because President Bulger was on campus to address many alumni present for Homecoming that weekend?
  • The Daily Hampshire Gazette received two telephone calls within the first few days after Adam's death stating that Adam had not been alone, and that a furious struggle between Adam and police had taken place. Did the police cause Adam's injuries in this struggle? It took 7 weeks and my request for the UMPD to question the receiver of these calls.

Why were officers struggling furiously with my injured and near-death son??

  • Anyone who has minimal first aid training knows that an individual who is semi-conscious can't be combative-unless roused from semi-consciousness in an attempt to defend himself. Anyone with minimal first aid training also knows that combativeness is a natural response to trauma, as well as a symptom of massive blood loss and shock.
  • What training did officers responding to Adam's emergency have? And if it was the Basic First Aid training they should have had, why didn't they follow it?
  • Why did the UMPD choose to speculate that Adam was intoxicated when he had all the classic symptoms of shock?
  • Most frightening of all, why did Chief Luippold tell my family of six members when we were on campus to claim Adam's belongings that his was the first student death in seven years? The Boston Globe reported last Spring that UMass, Amherst, had been plagued by an unusually high rate of deaths — eleven during academic '96-'97, and eight during academic '97 to '98.

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Until these questions can be answered, you — the student body, MUST be the checks and balances of this campus. Educate the media, your parents, professors and fellow students. We must ensure that this doesn't happen again — to your class mates, or yourself. There are avenues to take where you can make a difference.

  • Be sure to access the non-profit agency Security on Campus, which is linked to Adam's Web site. This is the largest agency in the nation that monitors, reports on, and inform students about crime on campuses.
  • Demand that future incidents reported as "alcohol-related" are investigated thoroughly. You have the right to access records by completing a simple request form. You have the write to appeal any denial of such records, and to receive written explanation of such denial.
  • On the Federal level, Congressman Bob Barr is championing legislation to have regulations and standards for privatized police and security forces. As concerned students wanting more objective, safer campuses,
    write to him to request that this legislation be extended to the type of police and security that is provided on our nation's college campuses. You can reach him at:

The Honorable Bob Bar

United States House of Representatives

Washington,DC., 20515

There is a realistic possibility that I will never know what happened to the son I entrusted to The University of Massachusetts — in part, because first responders chose to destroy a crime scene without preserving it — along with any evidence that could have proved, or disproved, their own speculations.

As the class of 1999 prepares to depart academic life, I pray you take a moment to reflect upon the big picture of what was lost that tragic night Adam's death was my tragedy, but was it not also an infringement upon the Constitutional Rights of every student attending the University? Until we hold those responsible accountable for their wrongdoing, there will continue to be many more "Adam incidents" — there already have been.

Adam paid the highest ransom he could have paid for a perception of the average male college student — it cost him his life. Don't let the next life be the life of your loved one, or your own. One person can make a difference. Imagine what we all can do, and how much more quickly, when we do it together.

Barbara R. Prentice - class of '75
Mother of Adam G. Prentice - class of '99


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