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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

UC Davis Police arrest man suspected of breaking into dorm room

On March 19, the UC Davis Police Department announced its arrest of a man suspected of breaking into three female students’ dorm room in Potter Hall at the Tercero Housing Area two days prior. The police arrested Justin Chiou, 18, a previous first-year student at UC Davis. The suspect was charged for burglary, according to Matt Carmichael, UC Davis police chief.

The arrest came two days after Shelby Sanders, first-year art studio major, reported an unknown man sneaking into her dorm room at approximately 6 a.m. on March 17 and crawling on top of her as she slept. According to Sanders, she initially mistook the intruder for her roommate. When she was able to see the suspect was not her roommate, she screamed to her sister, first-year animal science and management major Savanna Sanders, for help, waking up her other roommate, Amanda Bogden, a first-year animal science major. Sanders said that the suspect then calmly left her room.

“I just saw this looming shadow over my feet, kind of like one knee on the bed, looking like he was crawling over. At first I thought it was my roommate cause I’m on the bottom bunk so that’s the most accessible bunk and I just figured her phone might’ve fallen onto my bed,” Shelby said. “I was scared. I was like, ‘Savanna, there’s somebody in here.’ And right when I said that, I have a light on my bed and I turned it on, and then I screamed at the guy, ‘Who are you?’ And that’s when he opened the door and left. It was creepy. Very creepy.”

According to Carmichael, Chiou gained access to Potter Hall through a stolen access card and eventually found the girls’ unlocked door room when he returned later that morning. The access card along with a cellphone, both belonging to student Hsin-Min Cheng, were stolen at approximately 12:30 a.m that same day out of the girls bathroom while Cheng was taking a shower.

“He went into the girls’ bathroom and stole my card,” Cheng said to News10. “That’s scary. Every girl is taking a shower at that time.”

According to Shelby, the room was left unlocked because her roommate was doing laundry late at night, fell asleep and forgot to lock the door which allowed Chiou to enter later that morning.

“It could be any of us leaving the door open and we could’ve forgot about it,” Shelby said. “We were all asleep. So it was kind of all of our faults in the sense of not knowing to remember to close the door.”

According to Shelby, Chiou has been kicked out of the University and his dorm room at the Cuarto Housing Area. After his arrest, he was held at the Yolo County Jail before being released on bail shortly after. According to Carmichael, the next steps for Chiou include the eventual arraignment and judicial process.

Shelby said that she is satisfied with Chiou’s dismissal from the school.

“Honestly, he was kicked out of the University,” Shelby said. “That was a pretty big punishment. Punishment enough is that he’s not here and I’m happy he’s not here. I would’ve wanted him to leave anyway.”

The crime was initially described as aggravated trespass; however, after further investigation, Chiou was officially charged for burglary upon his arrest. According to Shelby, there wasn’t any tangible proof for the suspect to be charged for any charges other than burglary. However, Carmichael says there is potential for other charges once Chiou is formally arraigned.

“At the time, we only knew the guy entered the room and then left. So at that time it met the threshold for aggravated trespass,” Carmichael said. “By the time we made the arrest, we were able to formulate the fact that it well-fit the classification of burglary.”

While Shelby hopes to eventually press charges against the suspect, the more pressing issue is her finding out Chiou’s motivation for entering her dorm room.

“The only thing they can only really get him with is that he broke in and stole somebody’s phone and ID. So that doesn’t really hold up much in court either,” Shelby said. “Honestly though, I just want to know what he was thinking. That’s kind of all I really care about. That’s all I’m left with, so I’m just wondering on that.”

Carmichael declined to discuss any specific details about the case as to not diminish his ability to prosecute and interfere with the investigation.

In order to increase safety and prevent similar incidents from happening, Carmichael urges dorm residents to stop “tailgating” and using the deadbolt to hold room doors ajar, which was how the suspect entered Shelby’s room. Carmichael describes tailgating as when students swipe into a building themselves and then hold open the door for the people they don’t know behind them out of courtesy.

“I know you want to be polite, but if you don’t know the person, let the door close and let them swipe in,” Carmichael said. “When you leave your deadbolt out, that’s for ease of access for your friends. But unfortunately, that also gives access to everybody else.”

Shelby agrees that there needs to be further awareness on the dangers of these actions.

“I still see people leaving their doors open. You want to tell them something, but people are going to do what they want to do,” she said. “I think the best we can do right now is spread more awareness. But it’s really up to the students. I know it might be embarrassing for someone to turn somebody down from letting them in. Like asking, ‘Do you have an ID?’ And they say no and you’re like, ‘Sorry. I can’t let you in.’ It’s hard to tell people that, but it’s a start.”

According to Carmichael, this was the first instance in which UC Davis Police sent out a Campus Crime Alert Bulletin via email. Previously, UC Davis Police sent paper bulletins to campus units on UC Davis and the UC Davis Medical Center. He said the switch to email was done in order to ensure the bulletins would reach a greater number of people in the most timely fashion as possible. Crime alerts are sent out to every person with a UC Davis email.

“Instead of sending out crime alerts on a piece of paper, that a student may or may not see, we used email for the first time where it hits everybody,” Carmichael said. “By sending this out via email we actually received tips that helped us to identify the individual who was eventually arrested. So it’s kind of a big deal from going from pieces of paper bulletins to very clear emails to the entire community.”

While Carmichael declined to go into details on how the suspect was located, he did say the tips provided from sending out campuswide bulletins were helpful in the investigation.

“I can tell you that anytime we get support or information about any crime from the community it’s vital. That’s that big piece about us being good about ensuring that we’re sharing this information with everyone,” Carmichael said.

Prior to locating the suspect, Carmichael said UC Davis Police placed extra student patrol around Student Housing areas. Once the suspect was arrested, Carmichael called off the student patrol out of privacy for the residents; however, the added officers will remain patrolling the perimeter of residence halls.

On the same day as the incident, Student Housing held a community meeting with its residents in in order to address student concerns and provide resources on how to maintain safety at the residence halls.

According to Emily Galindo, associate vice chancellor, Student Housing does not have any plans for new security measures as she believes the residence halls are secure as is.

“All residence halls are locked 24/7 and can only be entered with an access card,” Galindo said via email. “We are reminding our residents of the importance of reporting any missing ID cards and of keeping their room doors secured at all times.”

Carmichael shares similar support on the effectiveness of Student Housing’s security system, although he urges students to utilize these precautions carefully.

“The other thing is that this raises awareness. I think we can all get a little complacent,” Carmichael said. “While we enjoy a very low crime environment, it just reminds us that we should always be vigilant and watch out for things. See something, say something kind of campaign.”

In addition to sending Campus Crime Alert Bulletins via email, additional changes to UC Davis Police technology include updating their website to improve navigation to resources and the new inclusion of traffic stop tracking. Since February, UC Davis Police have been tracking traffic stops by age, gender and ethnicity. Carmichael said this was done in order to combat complaints that police are profiling. According to him, tracking will be done based on the officer’s perception.

“We do that because we receive complaints in the past, ‘Well, the police are profiling. Well, the police are only stopping X person in our community,’” Carmichael said. “So we capture that data now. That will be up on the website. So it’s factual data.”

After the incident, Shelby said she’s staying safe by keeping her door locked and being wary of the people she lets into her building. She encourages other students to do the same.

“We’re definitely keeping our door locked all the time,” Shelby said. “My ID is with me all the time now. Even if I just go to the bathroom for a second, I just bring it with me now. I think people just need to decide if they want to let people in. And even me, now I have to decide that. Now, I probably won’t. But back then, I probably would have. People need to be educated. You need to know about it.”

JASON PHAM can be reached at campus@theaggie.org.

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