Section: News

Deputy accosts black students and alumni on golf cart

Deputy accosts black students and alumni on golf cart

Around 10 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 28, Deputy Kevin Williams turned right off of West Brooklyn Street onto Chase Avenue, the blue light of his flashers reflecting off the passing street signs, his sights set on a golf cart that appeared to be turning off of Middle Path. 

Parking on a diagonal and switching on his body camera, Williams approached the group in the cart: black students and alumni, including some of the founders of the Black Student Union (BSU), who were on campus for its 50th anniversary weekend. Among the passengers was Barbara Lee Johnson ’73, one of the first three black women to attend Kenyon.

“Okay, here’s the thing, you can’t ride [golf carts] on the sidewalk, and they’re not licensed to ride on the street,” Williams told the group. “I don’t know where you got it, but I would take it back and park it.” 

Mo Kamara ’22, who had permission to drive the cart for the weekend, said that she thought Williams had modified his usual route after determining that the cart was occupied by people of color. 

“His route is to go straight across to the fire station, and we were on Middle Path,” she said. “So he literally came out of his way to come and stop us, and the only reason why is because he saw there was multiple brown people in the golf cart.”   

Kamara said this is the fourth time she has felt targeted for her race in interactions with Williams. In fact, while taking part in the Kenyon Review Young Writers program, she was one of three black high school students that Williams stopped back in the summer of 2017 for “walking shoulder to shoulder in the roadway,” according to a Collegian article from September of that year.    

That incident spurred a meeting between representatives from the College, including Vice President for Student Affairs Meredith Bonham ’92, and representatives from the Knox County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO). Yet Chris Kennerly, associate dean of students and director of the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (ODEI), said he didn’t think much came of the meeting. 

While Kennerly wasn’t present at the 2017 meeting, he was the first to hear about the Sept. 28. incident. 

“After the incident happened, one of the alums, one of the [BSU] founders, Johnnie Johnson [’73], he rode back over to Gund Commons with [Kamara], and he actually told me, ‘Guess what happened?’ So I came out and spoke briefly to both of them, and then went over to [Campus] Safety to find out what had happened … I don’t think [Campus Safety] really knew exactly why she had been stopped,” Kennerly said. “They did talk about some other potential violations that had happened earlier that night … which didn’t relate to the stop at all.”

When asked why Kamara had been stopped, Campus Safety Supervisor Deb Shelhorn said that, while she was not on duty that night, she had heard it was because Kamara had been driving the cart the wrong way on Gaskin Avenue and on the sidewalk. Yet the deputy’s body-camera footage shows no indication that Kamara—who was driving the cart on Middle Path when Williams pulled her over—had been doing so. Even if Kamara had been doing what Shelhorn described, it was not the primary reason Williams stopped her.

After Kamara explained that she needed the cart to “transfer elderly people,” Williams responded: “I absolutely understand, but these are not licensed vehicles, [and] they have to be.”

Kamara then explained that she had registered the golf cart with Campus Safety. Williams refuted her statement: “No, they just actually stopped me and told me [you didn’t].”

Yet Shelhorn was surprised to hear that golf carts need licenses in Knox County. “Wow, I know that [the utility vehicles had] a big issue with that … [but] I wasn’t sure about the golf carts as far as needing license, too,” she said.

For KSCO police, however, the footage tells a very different story. Captain Jay Sheffer, who was present at the 2017 meeting following the Kenyon Review Young Writers incident, said he saw nothing wrong with the deputy’s actions the night he stopped Kamara. He suggested that the negative reaction from Kamara and alumni might have been due to Williams’ large stature and the fact that he was working the night shift.

“You get a big guy like that, some people were intimidated just off of the size of the person,” he said. “I can tell you, we’ve never had any complaints on him—I mean, prior to these [at Kenyon], we’ve never had any complaints. His record was good. It’s just, we’ve had a couple situations, for whatever reason …  In this one, I don’t see where he did anything out of the norm. He didn’t even go through the trouble of ID-ing everybody.” 

At the same time, Sheffer acknowledged that the legislation surrounding golf carts is vague in Ohio, where each sheriff is responsible for defining its enforcement in their county. In Knox County, golf carts, which are considered Under-Speed Vehicles (USVs), are prohibited from state routes (such as Chase Avenue/OH-308), but they can sometimes be allowed on normal roads, and enforcement procedure is often left to individual deputies.

The Collegian attempted to contact Williams through Sheriff David Shaffer, but were redirected, and upon a second attempt were told that Williams was off-duty, though he was scheduled to work.

President Decatur organized a meeting with Sheriff Shaffer, Mayor Kimmell and Board of Trustees Member Larry James following the Sept. 28 incident. Decatur said that the meeting, which took last Tuesday, was intended to “make sure that these reports were on his [Shaffer’s] radar screen and to start a dialogue of how we move forward.” Decatur said a follow-up meeting is scheduled for the near future, along with a conversation between the College and the Village over Gambier’s upcoming contract renewal with the Sheriff’s office.

Yet, for Kamara, there is no resolution in sight.

“When it first happened, I was not myself,” Kamara said. “Cause in my head I’m thinking, ‘nobody on this campus can protect me, I have no one to call. I can’t talk to my parents. I’m not rich—I can’t sue the Sheriff’s department—I’m poor, I’m an immigrant’s child.’ I can’t do nothing for myself, so basically, I just have to take this [expletive] lying down. And I can’t do nothing about it.”

To see police body camera footage of the incident, click here.

Correction: A previous version of this story stated that the incident occurred on October 28 when in fact the incident occurred September 28.


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