UNCW professor mistaken for possible assailant, campus police respond


The professor’s picture on the website for the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.

Casey McAnarney, Editor-in-Chief

An unnamed UNC Wilmington employee called campus police Feb. 28, 2017 when he saw a non-white individual outside, wearing a thick jacket in warm weather, and mistook him for a possible assailant on campus.

According to a statement sent out by the Office of University Relations, the university’s police department was contacted by an employee at approximately 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday in regard to chemistry lecturer Rajan Juniku wearing a jacket that was uncommon for this type of weather.

“The caller expressed concern that a man was seated on a bench behind Cameron Hall wearing a zipped-up jacket that did not seem congruent with the warm weather conditions,” the statement read. “There was no mention of race by the caller until he was asked by the dispatcher to provide routine descriptive information so that the man could be efficiently located by police personnel. A [University Police Department] officer was dispatched to the location and upon arrival, there was an interaction of less than 2 minutes between the officer and the man, who self-identified as a faculty member.”

The statement went on to say that the officer introduced himself and explained that campus police had received a call which “obligated their response.” The call was in regard to the fact that this lecturer was wearing a jacket that “seemed inappropriate for the warm weather,” and there was concern Juniku might be concealing weapons.

The officer said, according to the statement, that the easiest way to dispel the concern was for the faculty member to take the jacket off, so the officer could see that there was no weapon present. The faculty member removed the jacket and handed it to the officer, who then confirmed there was no weapon.

When asked by Juniku if this inquiry about his jacket and this investigation by the campus police officer were based on his ethnicity, the officer said that it was not and that he was obligated to respond to this call from a concerned employee, according to the email.

However, this statement differs from what was said in a Facebook post by Juniku’s wife, Alicia Juniku.

In the post, Juniku said that her husband was sitting outside on campus before one of the labs he instructs began. He had been sick for a couple of days and was attempting to enjoy some sun and “warm up.”

The lecturer had on a jacket, jeans and a sweater when campus police approached him. And, according to the post, police ordered him to take his hands out of his jacket pockets, saying “very slowly! No sudden movements!”

“My husband’s gorgeous olive skin, dark hair and chestnut eyes do not make him a terrorist,” Ms. Juniku went on to write in the post, “and neither does him sitting in the sun.”

The Facebook post said that Juniku’s students and colleagues were present at the time and that “a great injustice has been done to my husband.”

In a message with The Seahawk, Alicia Juniku stated that “[the] campus police report is ridiculous, of course they try to spin it like they did nothing wrong, but the fact of the matter is that that on a February day there were many other people on campus sitting on benches in the sun wearing their jackets….and yet Rajan was the only one stopped and searched.”

According to the university’s statement, university officials initiated a review of this exchange and campus police reached out to the faculty member who called the police for his account of what happened. The morning of March 1, 2017, UNCW’s provost and chief academic officer reached out to the faculty member to express her concern and to encourage him to respond to the campus police.

The OUR statement discussed the dashcam video, which, according to the statement, “has been very closely reviewed to confirm our understanding of the facts of the exchange.”

“We are eager to quickly proceed and finalize our review and will be able to do so upon receiving a response from the faculty member involved,” the statement read. “We have taken this accusation of ‘profiling’ very seriously and will review how we can ensure that those approached by UPD will not feel that they are being singled out for their ethnicity, but we also must recognize an obligation to respond to an employee’s concern about campus safety.”

Mrs. Juniku said that Rajan has received nothing but kindness and support from the Chemistry Department as a whole, and that “he values and loves his position teaching chemistry at UNCW.  He has no issue with the university itself, just the campus police and how they have humiliated him.”

According to his wife, he no longer feels comfortable outside of his classroom and lab on campus.

However, this will not keep Juniku from continuing his work at the university. He will continue to put his “whole heart” into teaching UNCW students, according to Ms. Juniku.

The university is not currently taking questions on the matter, according to Executive Director of OUR Janine Iamunno. Because of this, the newspaper can only rely on the statement they issued.

The Seahawk has also reached out to lecturer Rajan Janiku, and is waiting on a response.

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