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Ex-UNC employee says she was fired after protesting active-shooter exercise on campus

UNC campus rally against racism and police violence ends with broken window

A rally on the UNC campus Wednesday at which students spoke against the way campus police have handled clashes between pro- and anti-Confederate-monument groups ended with the breaking of glass at South Building.
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A rally on the UNC campus Wednesday at which students spoke against the way campus police have handled clashes between pro- and anti-Confederate-monument groups ended with the breaking of glass at South Building.

A former UNC-Chapel Hill employee, who was arrested after trying to stop an “unsafe” active-shooter training exercise on campus in April, was terminated from the university Thursday.

Amber Mathwig, UNC’s student veteran assistance coordinator, says she was fired in an act of retaliation by UNC.

“It shows that the university has a habit of removing or punishing people who speak out against the status quo,” Mathwig said.

Mathwig, 37, said she has attended several racially charged campus protests, including those against the Confederate statue Silent Sam.

“I have been targeted by UNC Police and my administrative superiors throughout the entire 2018-2019 academic year, due to my unwavering support of anti-racist student activism and vocal opposition to UNC campus police violence and targeting of student activists and other marginalized student populations on campus,” Mathwig wrote on a gofundme page asking for money for legal help.

She has raised more than $1,200 in one week, according to the page.

UNC officials did not comment on Mathwig’s termination, but provided records that show she was hired as a full-time, non-faculty employee in the the Office of the Dean of Students in 2015. Her most recent salary was $49,603 and she received annual raises through 2018. The Student Veteran Assistance Coordinator position is vacant on UNC’s website.

Police training exercise

Mathwig said the university opened an internal investigation regarding her controversial arrest on April 24, which supporters criticized on social media.

After attending a student-led rally against police violence that day, Mathwig said she stayed after work to watch a police training exercise involving UNC Police, Orange County Emergency Services and the Chapel Hill Fire Department in Odum Village on campus.

The training was near the Carolina Veterans Resource Center on Branson Street, where she has worked for two years serving UNC’s 250 to 300 student veterans as they navigate college life.

“I started feeling uncomfortable as soon as I saw the police and EMS gathered,” Mathwig said. Then she said she heard simulated gunshots or Airsoft rounds being fired in the building behind where she was sitting.

A Chapel Hill firefighter dressed in plain clothes told Mathwig to leave the area because it was dangerous, Mathwig said. She responded by saying she wouldn’t leave and they needed to stop the exercise. Then she said police paused the exercise and two armed officers came up to her told her to leave. When she refused again, she was arrested.

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Mathwig was charged with trespassing and with resisting, obstructing or delaying police, put on administrative leave with pay and ordered to stay off the UNC campus.

She had never been arrested or reprimanded by the university for her participation in protests, she said.

She tweeted at the time that she was arrested “for prioritizing student safety.”

UNC Police spokesman Randy Young previously told The News & Observer that in addition to their Basic Law Enforcement Training, officers get 48 hours of in-service training per year, which includes classroom and practical training such as crowd control and emergency response. The training exercise that day involved an active-shooter scenario in an empty building in Odum Village, he said.

Mathwig provided a photo of her dismissal letter that says her at-will employment “is being discontinued” effective June 6. It does not say why.

She said a meeting with her supervisor, Dean of Students Desiree Rieckenberg, and the human resources representative lasted about 15 minutes and there was no conversation about the results of the human resources investigation or why she was being terminated.

Staff writer Martha Quillin contributed to this story.

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