Thursday, May 23, 2024

‘Lack of trust': officers, agencies refused to participate in outside review of MSU shooting response

January 17, 2024
An FBI agent walks toward MSU Union during the response of a shooting on Michigan State’s campus on the night Feb. 13, 2023.
An FBI agent walks toward MSU Union during the response of a shooting on Michigan State’s campus on the night Feb. 13, 2023.

Law enforcement officers and federal agencies refused to participate in a review of Michigan State University’s response to the February mass shooting, according to a draft of the review recently released to The State News through a public records request, which called their decision to do so "unfortunate."

The draft also stated that members of the Board of Trustees "became involved in the (shooting) beyond their expertise and outside of their appropriate role," and it included a page-long in-memoriam for those impacted by the shooting. 

The draft was presented to the board, Interim President Teresa Woodruff and Vice President for Public Safety and Chief Safety Officer Marlon Lynch, according to university spokesperson Emily Guerrant. 

Then these findings were either reworded or removed altogether from the final copy of the review, which was publicly released by MSU on Oct. 11, 2023. 

"This decision and lack of trust is unfortunate"

In April, two months after the Feb. 13 mass shooting on campus that killed three students, injured five students and shook the community, MSU employed an outside audit to examine its response to the tragedy and make recommendations for further changes. 

The firm that conducted the review, Security Risk and Management Consultants, or SRMC, released its 26-page report to the public in October. 

It largely commended the response of MSU police officers and local agencies that were also on the scene but noted the firm was unable to interview some officers for the review. 

"We were unable to interview some law enforcement officers for this assessment, therefore we cannot speak to the involvement or participation of all responding agencies," the final review stated.

A draft version of the report provided more context. It instead stated officers and agencies "refused to participate."

"We should also note that some law enforcement officers, including federal agencies, refused to participate in the review," the draft said. "This decision and lack of trust is unfortunate."

SRMC kept the identities of those it interviewed for the review confidential. The firm did not respond to requests for comment on who refused to participate, although many of the local police departments and federal agencies that responded to the shooting said they weren't contacted at all by the firms's investigators. 

Lynch insisted the university’s police department "fully participated" with SRMC investigators. 

Lynch could not confirm that every MSUDPPS officer that was asked to be interviewed agreed to do so since the process was conducted confidentially. He instead pointed to a section of the review that says the firm "received excellent cooperation from every MSU administrator and staff member (investigators) interviewed" as proof of their compliance. 

Over 72 agencies responded to the shooting on Feb. 13.

Four of them — the U.S. Border Patrol, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Department of Homeland Security (HSI), and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) — are federally operated.

FBI Detroit spokesperson Gabrielle Szlenkier declined to comment on whether the agency refused to participate. The ATF, HSI, and U.S. Border Patrol said the firm did not contact them about their involvement in the shooting response. 

Richard Grillo, chief of the Meridian Township Police Department, said no requests came from the firm.

Chad Pride, deputy chief of the East Lansing Police Department, said he was "unaware of any request for ELPD to participate in this request."

Jordan Gulkis, public information director for the Lansing Police Department, similarly said the firm did not contact them about their response to the shooting.

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Ingham County Sheriff Scott Wriggelsworth said he did not recall being asked to participate.

It's unclear why the finding was not included in the final version of the review. Lynch said his department was not able to change the findings of the after-action review before it was released. 

President and CEO of SRMC Lynda Buel did not respond to requests for comment on who refused to participate and why the finding was not included in the final report. 

In October, a receptionist for SRMC told The State News that the firm had "signed an NDA" and was therefore not able to take media inquiries. But former MSU Deputy Spokesperson Dan Olsen said that no non-disclosure agreement between SRMC and MSU exists. 

"Maybe it is that they don't want to discuss the matter, but no, there is no non-disclosure agreement with the university on that," Olsen told The State News in October. 

When SRMC was asked about the discrepancy, a receptionist said Buel was "under a different impression."

"You know, she has had discussions with the people that we worked with at the university, and she's not at liberty to discuss the review," said the receptionist, who was not able to clarify whether those restrictions were legally binding. "You can interpret that however you like. That's … what I've been told."

Trustees involved 'outside of their appropriate role'

This isn't the firm's only accusatory finding that was then softened in the published version of the report.

The draft also initially reported that "Board of Trustees members desperately wanted to help (during the shooting) and became involved in the incident beyond their expertise and outside of their appropriate role."

In the published version, however, SRMC instead said trustees "wanted to help but became involved in the incident beyond the customary role and expectations of a governance board during an emergency."

Trustee Brianna Scott first revealed that the finding was reworded in a letter she sent to the board in October, which accused Board Chair Rema Vassar of overstepping her role in university matters and called for her removal.

Scott claimed Vassar was displeased with the original finding and "inappropriately suggested" to consultants that they revise it before publicly releasing their report. 

Scott says SRMC complied with Vassar's suggestions and instead included the softer finding in the final report.

Vassar denied Scott's allegations in October. She said another trustee, not her, "raised appropriate questions and concerns" about the contents of a review into MSU's handling of the mass shooting.

Vassar defended the unnamed trustee's request, saying, “It was appropriate to engage the firm on the contents of their report — particularly as the specific request was for recommendations around our roles during crises."

The final published review provides information on how to organize university leadership during emergencies for more efficient crisis management — guidance that wasn't included in the draft version.

"The memory of that day will not be forgotten"

The draft of SRMC's after-action review begins with a page titled "In Memoriam," acknowledging "those impacted by the mass shooting tragedy experienced by MSU and the surrounding community on February 13, 2023."

"The healing process has just begun, but the memory of that day will not be forgotten," it reads.

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The entire page was removed from the final report, and no memorial was included in its place. 

Guerrant said she was not aware the change had been made.

"I can't speak for the company and the edits or changes they made in the report," Guerrant said. "But the university did acknowledge the victims and families in the letter to campus that shared the report. Let us continue to keep in our hearts the students we lost that night, those injured, the families, and members of our community who were impacted."

Concerns over length and content

SRMC's review has faced scrutiny for its relatively short length and lack of depth.

The 26-page review pales in comparison to reviews conducted for other schools that were sites of mass shootings, which are several times its length and intensely critical of school officials' responses.

While SRMC's review did call for more officers and communication, it shied away from detailed analysis of what MSU didn't do well in its response to the shooting and largely commended officers' response.

It failed to directly address the thirteen-minute gap between when the gunman fired and the emergency alert was sent out, that the doors in Berkey Hall didn’t have locks, and other details of the shooting that have been often critiqued. 

MSU didn't specifically ask SRMC to analyze what it did wrong in its shooting response. The university instead asked firms that sought to conduct the review to focus on "what response actions MSU handled well and what actions may be improved," according to Bridge Michigan.

SRMC was paid $193,840 by MSU to conduct the review – the second lowest bid for the job, according to documents obtained by The State News.

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