A college freshman at Stephen F. Austin State University in Texas was sound asleep when campus police entered her room at 3 a.m. on September 14, with one officer’s gun drawn, her lawyer and university officials said.
The freshman, Christin Evans, 18, hadn’t committed any crime, her lawyer, Randall Kallinen, told CNN. Rather, she was the victim of a “swatting” set up by her two roommates. Eleven women, including her roommates, were involved in the incident, SFA Chief of Police John Fields confirmed in a news conference Wednesday morning.
“A story was made up about her that she was threatening to stab people in the room with scissors,” Kallinen said. “It was extremely traumatizing for her and has led to a lot of problems psychologically and she is suffering from depression. Whenever she hears any footsteps outside of her dorm room, she’s always terrified.”
The lawyer said the individuals had “convinced” the dorm’s resident assistant, who called campus police, that Evans, who was 17 at the time, was having a manic episode and was going to stab people with scissors.
It’s unclear why the students targeted the freshman, Fields said.
The freshman, who is Black, told CNN that she believes her roommates wanted her removed from their dorm room, despite spending the day before the incident “talking like normal friends.”
And she said her race affected the school’s response.
“I definitely think if I was a White student, they would have been a lot faster with the punishments. Things would have been handled a lot faster,” Evans told CNN.
Authorities have not identified the women allegedly responsible for the incident, and CNN has not been able to contact them for comment. Of the 11 women, six were White, four were Black, and one was Hispanic, according to Fields.
“The evidence doesn’t lead to any racism,” Fields said. “It’s more students doing stuff they shouldn’t be doing.”
University officials say they’re investigating the incident, and no criminal charges have been filed yet.
“Filing a false report violates the SFA Code of Conduct, and potentially violates the law as well,” SFA President Scott Gordon said in a statement to CNN. “The investigation and judicial processes take time. I want to urge everyone to withhold judgment until the conclusion of our investigation and process.”
“My heart goes out to the young lady who was an innocent victim in this matter. We will do all we can to support her and her family through this heinous ordeal. We will not have this at SFA!”
The students who are found responsible “will be dealt with appropriately,” Gordon said.
‘My life is now different’
Evans, who was recruited by the university for the school’s cheer squad in December 2019, said she expected her freshman year to be about making friends and cheering. Instead, just one month since the start of her first semester, she says she is now reconsidering her decision to stay at the university.
“It has really, really changed the way that I do things. I can’t sleep, my eating habits are totally different. I’m really paranoid, skittish,” Evans told CNN. “Because of their actions, my life is now different.
“I really think that it will take a lot of time to recover and build myself back up to where I was,” she added.
More than two weeks after the incident, Kallinen says the family is still demanding that the school discipline everyone involved.
“These are adult college students who are older than her, who know about Breonna Taylor, who was sleeping when police entered and shot and killed her,” he said. “This could have ended just as badly. We’re lucky she wasn’t shot.”
Louisville Metro Police Department officers fatally shot Taylor on March 13 while executing a “no-knock” search warrant at her apartment. Gunfire broke out after her boyfriend fired what he said was a warning shot because he thought the plainclothes officers were intruders. The 26-year-old EMT was killed in the barrage of gunfire.
Evans was cleared of any suspicions and her “innocence is not in question,” according to a text Fields sent to Evans’s mother. Kallinen provided the text to CNN and Fields confirmed he sent it.
“You have to give people that are accused due justice … We are doing a criminal investigation case, once we’re finished, we are going to present our case to the local district attorney’s office and then they will determine if there are charges or not,” Fields said during the news conference.
“We ensure accountability throughout the campus…This is not a racial issue; we hold students accountable but at the end of the day, students are coming to the university to get an education. Our job as administrators for the university is to educate our students and correct their behaviors when it needs correcting and then when it’s over with, we want them to graduate.
There are two judicial processes at the university taking place simultaneously regarding the incident; A criminal investigation led by university police and a student rights investigation led by Dennis Mosley, the director of the university’s Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities.
The students involved in the incident will go through a disciplinary hearing by the university Mosley said during the news conference. Then, the university will determine whether they should be charged with violating the school’s code of conduct and what punishment is deemed appropriate.
Police plan to release body camera footage
Campus police officers who responded to the call were wearing body cameras which showed what happened during the incident. The footage will be released upon parental permission, Fields said.
When police arrived, Fields said they knocked on Evans’ door four times before being let into the room by one of Evans’ suit mates.
Only one officer had a weapon, with a flashlight attached which he used to see in the dark, and the weapon was not pointed at Evans, Fields said. Another officer had a taser ready, while the third officer had no taser or weapon out, Fields added.
Once police found Evans in bed, the threat was deescalated.
“At no time did we go inside the room like the wild, wild west, like it’s been presented in the media,” Fields said. “The officers were always professional, and they had a conversation with her.”
She was moved out of the room
Evans is still enrolled at the school but has been moved by the university to another dorm room.
“I sent my child there, a normal happy teenager, and these girls have changed her life and who she is for now,” her mother, LaShondra Evans, told CNN.
“They still kept living their lives. They stayed in the same room, nothing was affected, so far they faced no consequences, so to them this is something you can get away with while my child’s life has been uprooted.”
The family says they will continue pushing the university to discipline the students involved.