Education

911 calls at UNC Wilmington shed light on alleged racial profiling incident

Rajan Juniku, a lecturer at UNC-Wilmington.
Rajan Juniku, a lecturer at UNC-Wilmington. UNC-Wilmington

UNC-Wilmington campus police have released audio of calls to campus police that resulted in a search of a university lecturer and his claim that he was racially profiled.

Rajan Juniku, 42, a chemistry lecturer who was born in Kosovo, said he was on a campus bench Tuesday drinking water. He said he had been sick and was wearing a sweater with a jacket over it and a pair of jeans.

University police were contacted by a campus employee who expressed concern that a man was sitting on a bench wearing a zipped-up jacket, which was considered strange given the warm weather, said Janine Iamunno, executive director of university relations, in a statement. The caller made no mention of the man’s race until the dispatcher asked the caller to provide routine descriptive information about the man, Iamunno said.

In the redacted, voice-modulated audio released to The News & Observer on Thursday, the caller asks police to investigate Juniku.

“There’s a bench there and a man sitting there in a zipped-up red jacket, his hands in his pockets, just sitting there,” the caller says. “But I just think it’s odd that it’s almost 80 degrees and he’s sitting there zipped up in a jacket with his hands in his pockets, just watching people walk by. And I don’t know if he’s a 10-60 subject (police code for suspicious person) or just someone who wants to warm up.”

Though the caller used a police code, campus officials said the caller was not a law enforcement officer.

The 911 dispatcher asks the caller to describe the man’s race: “Can you tell if he’s black, white or Hispanic?”

The caller hesitates briefly before saying, “From here he almost looks like, Indian maybe.”

“Like Middle Eastern?” the dispatcher asks.

“Yeah, Middle Eastern,” the caller responds. “You know he might just be a business professor or something. I hate to harass him, but it’s just odd he’s just sitting there. I don’t know ... It’s just odd. Everyone’s in shorts and short sleeves and he’s over there in a zipped-up jacket.”

Campus police were dispatched to a parking lot near Cameron Hall on campus, and in the dispatch call, the dispatcher said the 911 caller “said he can see a male subject wearing a large red zip-up jacket. He’s been sitting on the bench for some time. He said he’s concerned that his attire is not weather appropriate and subject has had his hands in his pockets ... He said his skin looks darker. He’s not sure if he’s a Caucasian male, but he’s wearing a large red jacket.”

Juniku said that when the UNCW officer approached him, “I never expected him to ask me to remove my hands from my jacket and take my jacket off.”

He said he asked the officer, who did not pull out a weapon, whether he was being singled out because he looked Middle Eastern, even though he is of Serbian descent.

“He said, ‘No, I am doing this just because somebody notified me, and we have to double check.’ So he was just doing his job,” Juniku said.

Iamunno said that during the interaction, “the officer indicated repeatedly that he did not believe the faculty member had done anything wrong, and apologized for the fact that he was obligated to follow up on the call.”

UNCW Campus Police Chief David Donaldson said in an interview with The News & Observer on Thursday that the incident was not being investigated as a crime and no police report had been filed, but the university was conducting an internal review.

“The officer’s actions were reasonable and effective,” Donaldson said. “He introduced himself and efficiently explained why he was there. The whole encounter lasted less than two minutes.”

Donaldson said the officer handled the incident according to protocol – ensuring that there was no danger to the public first.

This was “absolutely not a case where race or ethnicity or profiling has any component at all,” Donaldson said, adding that campus police receive reports of suspicious people or activities several times per week.

Juniku was asked to remove his hands from his jacket and his jacket was searched, but Donaldson said that’s part of standard procedure so officers can determine that there is no concealed weapon present.

“This was certainly standard procedure. I’m proud to work with the officer,” Donaldson said. “I have exceptionally high standards for my staff.

“We will continue to respond to calls from the community and work for the purpose and mission of public safety. We’re going to at some point look at this from the perspective of what can we learn.”

Donaldson said that Juniku was not asked to identify himself or show a university ID because UNCW is an open campus where people who are not students or faculty often visit.

While there was dash cam footage of the interaction between Juniku and the officer, UNCW said it could not release the video according to state statute.

Juniku’s wife, Alicia Juniku, said a formal complaint had been filed and the family was seeking legal advice.

Donaldson said he was able to meet with Juniku and his representation to view the dash cam footage and discuss where to go from here. The internal administrative review isn’t complete, but Donaldson said that once it is, the university will communicate the conclusion to Juniku.

Abbie Bennett: 919-836-5768; @AbbieRBennett

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