A 29-year-old former Eastern Michigan University student placed racist graffiti around the Ypsilanti school’s campus last year not because he was politically motivated, the school’s police chief said Monday.
“It was totally self-serving,” Eastern Michigan University Chief of Police Robert Heighes told the media during a quick news conference. “It was not driven by politics. It was not driven by race.”
Heighes would not elaborate more on the motive, but said no other person or groups were involved.
The suspect, identified as Eddie Curlin, is a former student at Eastern who attended from 2014 to early 2016. While at Eastern, he came to the attention of another law enforcement agency, Heighes said.
He is currently in custody of the Michigan Department of Corrections serving a 1-to-5-year sentence on an unrelated charge of receiving and concealing stolen property. He was sentenced in that case in Washtenaw County in August.
He had been in trouble before that. According to state records, he was sentenced in 2010 for possession of burglary tools, breaking and entering and resisting a police officer. He served 3 years 10 months in prison for those charges.
In the EMU case, he has been charged with three counts of malicious destruction of property; four counts of identity theft; and one count of using computers to commit a crime. Malicious destruction of property is a misdemeanor. Identity theft is a felony, as is the charge of using computers to commit a crime. Curlin was returned to the Department of Corrections following his arraignment.
Heighes said the identity thefts came to light as the department investigated the grafitti, but were not directly tied to it.
Police did not give details on how they identified Curlin as a suspect, but said they used a variety of methods, including video and interviews with students.
The graffiti sparked a turbulent year on campus.
The first set of graffiti showed up in September 2016, when the letters “KKK” — seemingly referencing the Ku Klux Klan — and racial slurs were found spray-painted on campus. An EMU employee told the Free Press at the time that staff members in the Julia Anne King Hall discovered the graffiti on the walls in the courtyard of the building. The letters “KKK” were painted in red, white and blue, according to a picture provided to the Free Press by an EMU employee who works in the building. The rest of the message said “Leave,” followed by a racial slur.
A racial slur was found in the stairwell of Wise Hall at EMU the next day. Students have led a number of marches against racism and also protested at a football game.
“Our officers have worked on this case extensively since day one,” Heighes said in a news release earlier in the day. “We appreciate that people wanted a fast arrest but, in many cases, that is not the way police work happens.
“I recognize the anger, fear and frustration that these incidents caused for many of our students, faculty and staff, and I thank them for their patience and understanding as we conducted a thorough investigation.”
Students also stayed in the student center after it was closed and received discipline from the school from those actions.
At least one student said Monday the arrest did little to quell her beliefs about Eastern and problems with race relations.
“There’s too much stuff beyond just this,” said junior Teresa Moore, 22, of Ypsilanti. “Administrators are just going to sweep this right under the rug and say all the race problems are solved.”
Eastern declined to make President James Smith available for an interview. He did not attend the news conference, but issued a statement in the school’s news release.
“The incidents of vandalism on our campus created significant pain, fear and distress among our students, faculty and staff. I joined with many of our community in my own personal anger over these incidents.
“The many initiatives put in place as a result of the incidents are vitally important and will continue regardless of the outcome of the criminal proceedings. As one of the most diverse higher education institutions in Michigan, Eastern’s commitment to inclusiveness and being a welcoming community for people of all backgrounds is an ongoing priority.”
Contact David Jesse: 313-222-8851 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @reporterdavidj
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