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Police put USF noose incident to rest

After causing an uproar at the university, a student says he tied a sailing knot, not a noose, and meant no harm.

By BRADY DENNIS
Published February 14, 2004

TAMPA - The great rope mystery appears to be over. And, much to the relief of University of South Florida officials, the man who tied it says it wasn't meant to be a noose at all and carried no racial intentions.

The uproar began last week when a resident at Magnolia Hall, a residence hall on campus, saw what appeared to be a hangman's noose fashioned from rope hanging from a nearby tree and called campus police.

Accusations abounded. February is Black Emphasis Month at USF, and during last year's celebration vandals struck a campus bust of Martin Luther King Jr.

As news of the rope incident spread, University president Judy Genshaft promised the person behind the incident would be "swiftly dealt with" by a university judicial system. Scores of students attended an evening meeting to voice their opinions.

Black student leaders argued for harsh punishment to whoever was caught. The Oracle, USF's student newspaper, printed half a dozen stories with headlines like "Students, administrators react to noose in tree."

In the end, university police say it wasn't a noose after all. Or at least it wasn't meant to be. Contrary to initial reports, officers said the rope didn't have the dozen or more coils in a traditional hangman's noose.

They interviewed about 20 students and other witnesses, who told them the rope had been there for awhile and previously had been used as a swing.

And then they talked to 20-year-old Christopher Scott Hester, who acknowledged tying the controversial knot while sitting in the courtyard with friends.

"There was a rope hanging from a nearby oak tree," Hester wrote in a sworn statement to police. "Knowing multiple sailing knots, I proceeded to tie a slipknot in the bottom of the rope previously mentioned. It was not tied in a malicious sense nor directed at anyone or any group of people."

University police officials believe him.

"Witnesses have really corroborated that," said Sgt. Michael Klingebiel. "Our whole goal from the beginning was to place this rope into context. The community was drawing conclusions. This appears to be the correct conclusion, based on all the statements we gathered."

Klingebiel said Hester will be referred to the university's judicial services. Those proceedings, along with any punishment, remains private.

But as far as police are concerned, the rope incident is closed. "It's all in their hands now," Klingebiel said. "There will be no criminal prosecution."

As for the rope itself? Police destroyed it, he said.

[Last modified February 14, 2004, 07:18:03]


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