Questions remain about accusations of racist threats at UVM

Published: Oct. 6, 2017 at 12:05 PM EDT
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Questions remain about a reported threat at the University of Vermont. While UVM Police arrested a student based on alleged threatening behavior, they say he never posed an imminent threat to the campus.

"It's been asked of me whether or not my client is a racist, and absolutely not," defense attorney Benjamin Luna said.

Wesley Richter, 20, is charged with disorderly conduct. It came after someone else at UVM reported an overheard phone conversation where Richter allegedly used "explicitly racist and threatening language" against black students and diversity initiatives on campus.

"Police services received communication from a student who had overheard what he felt were threats," UVM Police Chief Lianne Tuomey said.

Police have refused to reveal exactly what Richter allegedly said and who it was said to, but say there was never an imminent threat posed.

"Our investigation did not reveal any threats of use of any weapons whatsoever," Tuomey said.

The alleged threatening behavior was reported to police Sunday, who later referred the case to the state's attorney for review. They later filed the criminal charge.

"I think there's some complex issues. There's some gray areas that have not been dealt with before in this state. I think it will be complex," Chittenden County Deputy State's Attorney Ryan Richards said.

Richter was set to be arraigned Friday morning but claimed Rule 5. His defense attorney says it will allow him to challenge probable cause, accusing the university and prosecutors of overreaching constitutional bounds of free speech.

"The First Amendment in this country is under siege and this case is a demonstration of that," Luna said.

Reporter Tyler Dumont: Did he make these statements?

Benjamin Luna: These are allegations that at this point are unfounded. And even if he did make them and even if they were, in fact, true, they do not rise to the level of probable cause.

Richter's defense has asked for 15 days to file that motion challenging probable cause.

Meanwhile, on this Alumni Weekend, UVM says Richter remains a student here and will also face an internal conduct review. Police declined to tell us whether he was interviewed or has been cooperative.