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Steve Emerine swears he's not a cop.
A spokesman for the University of Arizona's controversial Mount Graham International Observatory project, 58-year-old Emerine claims he attends campus demonstrations only to observe and answer media questions.
"Under no circumstances, that I can think of, would I be involved in telling police who to arrest or not to arrest," Emerine said last month during a sworn deposition.
But Emerine, who has announced he will resign at some as-yet-unspecified date from his $51,000-a-year public relations job, hasn't seen William "Sky" Crosby's videotape of an October 1992 demonstration at UofA's Steward Observatory.
Emerine's attorney is expected to receive a copy of the tape later this week in the course of a lawsuit challenging UofA responses to the demonstration. Once the tape becomes public, Emerine may well face the greatest public relations challenge of his six-year tenure at UofA.
Emerine plays only a small role in Crosby's two-hour videotape, which documents a protest against UofA's multimillion-dollar plan to build telescopes on Mount Graham.
But in the upper right corner of Crosby's video, for a few fleeting seconds, Emerine seems to be acting in dual capacities: university spokesman and de facto police officer. For whatever reason, Emerine appears to take inordinate interest in Phoenix physician, wildlife photographer and environmental activist Robin Silver.
And, for no apparent reason, Silver ends up in jail.
Emerine knows Silver well.
Emerine's job, after all, is to paint a positive face on the Mount Graham telescope project, which has been attacked on environmental, religious and financial grounds.
Since 1989, Silver has continuously requested public records from UofA on the telescope project. He has filed lawsuits, gone to Congress, triggered federal probes, grilled members of the state Board of Regents and generally been a complete pain in the ass for the university.
Although a fierce opponent of the telescopes, Silver contends he was careful not to participate in the Steward Observatory demonstration, and videotapes of the demonstration reviewed by New Times seem to support that claim. Silver, whose photographs have appeared in major newspapers and magazines, says he was focused on shooting the protest for his own archives.
But Crosby's videotape shows Emerine stalking Silver, nevertheless. Crosby says he shot the tape as part of his continuing efforts to document Native American and environmental issues.
In the minutes before Silver's arrest, the tape shows the photographer circling scores of protesters who are clustered around five men banging a ceremonial drum while leading a loud, lengthy chant.
Soon, the tape shows, the UofA police go through the motions of warning the crowd of protesters to disperse. Although a bullhorn is present moments later, UofA administrators elect only to read a warning statement in front of a police video camera.
Most protesters and observers appear not to hear the dispersal warning over the drumming, clapping and singing of demonstrators. (Police would later report that the noise was so loud, they had to yell to be heard while standing next to each other.)
Two officers grab Hodges and begin walking him to the door. Tracking Hodges as he is taken outside to a waiting police van, Crosby's camera catches a remarkable sight.
As Silver moves across the room looking for another angle to photograph, Emerine follows like a shadow. Sheepishly, Emerine raises his right arm and points his index finger at Silver's head. Silver, an emergency-room physician at St. Joseph's Hospital in Phoenix, turns briefly toward Emerine. The public relations man quickly pulls back his arm and acts as if he is scratching his head.
Silver turns away. Emerine resumes following Silver and points him out a second time, Crosby's videotape shows.
At this point, Silver and Emerine disappear from Crosby's videotape, but another tape shows Silver being arrested by two UofA police officers seconds later.
"I was just trying to get a photo when Emerine pointed at my face and said, 'Get that guy, get that guy,'" Silver would later tell Tucson police officers transporting him to jail.
Emerine, the public relations man, appears to have become Emerine, the cop.
The dual role Emerine apparently adopted does not necessarily clash with the clandestine approach UofA has used in dealing with other opponents of its prestigious telescope project.
The university and its German and Italian partners have spent about $10 million to complete two telescopes on Mount Graham, a 10,500-foot mountain in southeastern Arizona. The university is seeking additional partners to build the centerpiece of the observatory, a giant, $60 million optical telescope that school officials believe will keep UofA at the forefront of international astronomical research.
Protesters, however, claim the project violates environmental laws and the religious rights of Native Americans, who consider Mount Graham sacred.
So far, the university has prevailed in its legal battles with the protesters. The school's methods of fighting those battles, however, are raising new sorts of questions, both legal and ethical.
In addition to the arrest of Silver, which has spawned a lawsuit, UofA police used unusual tactics to detain another telescope opponent at a demonstration at Mount Graham last month.