Around 4 pm on Tuesday, February 27, NYPD arrested GS student Shlomo Fingerer in Barnard Hall. Later that evening, a photo was posted to the Barnard Class of 2021 Facebook page, asking about the reason behind the arrest. A student commented that the man being arrested in the photo was a friend of theirs who suffers from a medical condition; they speculated that the reason Shlomo refused to get into an ambulance was because he,“loses awareness of where he is and can’t control his actions.” The post has since been removed from the page at the request of the student who commented. Also, a different commenter noted that Barnard students were not notified of the police presence on campus, as is usual protocol in such situations.
On Wednesday, Fingerer posted on Facebook explaining his condition: “Seizures make me sleepwalk. I am totally unconscious and unresponsive. I look like someone in a total daze.” While studying in Lefrak, he wrote, he experienced a seizure. Later he awoke to find himself under arrest. It appears, he continues, that he went to Hewitt Dining Hall and was asked to leave but did not respond. Public Safety and the NYPD were called (unknown by whom) and Fingerer was removed from Hewitt. He was then arrested for trespassing, and NYPD transported Fingerer to a holding cell off campus.
According to Fingerer’s Facebook post, the head chef at Hewitt, Frank Pulgiano, claimed that he felt threatened because of the way Fingerer was clenching his fork; he allegedly refused to put it down, and it had to be physically removed from his hand.
Fingerer says in his Facebook post that he was told he can no longer step foot on Barnard’s campus, despite being a Columbia student and paying “$1,500 for a class in Barnard this semester.” If he does, he will be charged with trespassing, issued a $1,000 fine, and possibly sentenced to one year in prison. In his post, Fingerer writes, “Any seizure that I have, and I have two a week, I can sleepwalk onto Barnard campus, which is right across the street.” Additionally, because he keeps kosher and Hewitt is one of the few dining halls with kosher options, Fingerer claims that not being allowed on Barnard’s campus severely restricts his dining options.
In an update to his post, Fingerer added that he may now be facing homelessness because of his arrest. According to Columbia Facilities, they have received complaints from students and parents who feel unsafe with him in his building.
Barnard has since released a statement saying, “With the utmost concern for the safety of our community, on Tuesday evening, Aramark staff and Public Safety responded to a university student who was exhibiting threatening behavior and they called NYPD. Subsequently the student informed us his behavior was a result of a medical condition. Barnard will always work with members of our community who have medical needs. The College will never take legal action or ban a student from our facilities solely because of a medical condition.”
A number of students have begun an email campaign targeting Barnard employees who deal with disabilities and discipline. These faculty members range from Barnard Human Resources to a Title IX representative to the Barnard representative for Aramark to President Beilock.
Edit, 2/28/18, 10 pm: The title of the post has been changed from “GS Student Arrested In Barnard Hall Yesterday” to “GS Student Had Seizure In Barnard Hall, Arrested By NYPD,” in order to better reflect the events described by the contents of the post.
Edit, 2/28/18, 10:45 pm: Members of the Barnard community received an email from Dean Hinkson at 10:41 pm on 2/28/2018 regarding the incident described above. In the email, she referenced action being taken by “Columbia counterparts” and indicated that Barnard “will work with them to ensure the student’s well-being.” She also noted that Barnard is not pursuing legal action against Fingerer, that they “are working with Aramark to see that the charge that was filed against the student is dropped,” and that he is not banned from campus or Hewitt Dining Hall.
In accordance with many of the demands being made by students earlier in the day for next steps, the email also stated that Barnard is “looking at how we can collaborate more closely with Columbia’s Office of Disability Services” and “reviewing our response to this incident to ensure it comported with our values, as well as our policies and procedures.”
The full text of the email can be read below.
Dear Members of the Barnard Community,
I am writing to inform you about an incident on campus that has generated some attention. On Tuesday evening, a Columbia student entered Hewitt Dining Hall during non-operating hours and exhibited behavior that made an Aramark employee feel threatened and unsafe. Aramark contacted Barnard Public Safety, who tried unsuccessfully to persuade the student to leave, evaluated the situation and contacted the NYPD. Upon their arrival, the NYPD made the decision to arrest the student.
Since that time, the student has indicated via email and social media that his behavior at the scene, which he does not remember, was a result of having recently suffered an epileptic seizure. Those responding to the incident were not aware of the student’s medical condition. We have spoken with our Columbia counterparts and will work with them to ensure the student’s well-being. We have reached out to the student and are not pursuing legal action. The student is not banned from the Barnard College campus nor restricted from Hewitt Dining Hall. To be clear, the College will never take legal action or ban a student from our facilities solely because of a medical condition.
We are committed to the safety of our community, as well as to the well-being of all our students. We are working with Aramark to see that the charge that was filed against the student is dropped. In addition, we are looking at how we can collaborate more closely with Columbia’s Office of Disability Services to ensure that critical information is shared in a manner that is timely and effective. Finally, we are reviewing our response to this incident to ensure it comported with our values, as well as our policies and procedures. Our goal is to make sure we have the best possible response to any circumstance involving campus safety and student well-being.
Edit 3/1/2018: In response to the email from Hinkson, Fingerer reiterated that in the past, “Barnard public safety had responded and responded to my seizures, where we had lengthy talks afterwards.” He also noted that he had previously by police in handcuffs from the third floor of Mudd to the emergency room. He shared that he had been in contact with a representative from Aramark, who was interested in meeting with him and discussing what had happened.
Photo via Bwog Staff