Ersula Ore Sues ASU for $2 Million, But ASU Supports Her With Move to Fire Cop
Ersula Ore plans to sue ASU for $2 million over her violent May 20 arrest by Officer Stewart Ferrin, who is apparently being fired.
Arizona State University nearly begged Professor Ersula Ore to sue over her high-profile May 20 jaywalking arrest, and now she's gratifying the university with a $2 million lawsuit.
Last week, ASU responded -- albeit indirectly -- to her November 12 notice of claim by notifying the arresting officer, Stewart Ferrin, that he was going to be fired.
And this all comes after Provost Rob Page's July memo to ASU faculty that the university supported Ore, who was later convicted of resisting arrest.
How come ASU hasn't yet cut Ore a settlement check?
With these recent events, the public might even forget that ASU said unequivocally in June that Ferrin had violated "no university police protocols."
The pro-Ferrin statement came, however, as the video made from Ferrin's patrol-car dash-cam and obtained by Channel 3 News (KTVK-TV) was still on a viral upswing. Soon enough, under pressure by public complaints of potential racism, ASU would change sides.
Ore, a black professor, had managed to tap into the national anti-police frustration months before the shooting of Michael Brown and protests in Ferguson.
For the alleged crime of jaywalking on College Avenue near ASU, Ore was stopped by Ferrin while walking from a class she'd just finished teaching. The encounter turned into a debacle, with Ore being manhandled by Ferrin, and Ferrin taking her to jail. He accused her of assaulting a police officer, resisting arrest, failing to provide ID and obstructing a public thoroughfare.
After Channel 3 obtained and aired the dash-cam video a month later, many in the public became incensed at what they saw.
Ferrin is shown to be a prime example of a rookie cop on a power trip, and video watchers can be forgiven for wondering if Ferrin, who's white, would have treated a white professor as poorly.
But Ore embarrasses herself on the video, too -- hollering like Ferrin was trying to kill her, refusing his order to put her hands behind her back, and informing him the altercation is occurring because, "This entire thing is about your lack of respect for me. For me!"
Ferrin tells her he might slam her on the hood of his car. He then performs a WWF-style take-down of the smaller woman, exposing her panties to the public. When Ferrin reaches out to pull down her skirt, the video shows, she lashes out with a kick.
Backlash over the video caused ASU to put Ferrin on leave, even as it supported his version of events with its June statement. The university stated it would get an outside agency -- later said to be the FBI -- to investigate whether Ore's civil-rights were violated. Campus police would also conduct an internal review of the incident, ASU said, to determine whether Ferrin "could have avoided the confrontation that ensued."
Perryn Collier, spokesman for the FBI, says the agency concluded its investigation on July 8 and submitted a report to the Arizona U.S. Attorney's Office without suggesting that any violation had occurred or not. The prosecutor's office let the FBI know on August 28 that it would not be pursuing a civil-rights case against ASU or Ferrin.
As New Times learned this week from Ferrin's lawyer, former Arizona U.S. Attorney Mel McDonald, ASU also contracted with a private investigator, Keith Sobraske, to probe Ferrin. (He's the same guy who produced that white-washed investigation of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's office back in 2011, having failed to ask Arpaio key questions about the sheriff's involvement in alleged corruption.)
Last Wednesday, after about six months on paid leave, Ferrin was told he'd be fired on January 21, McDonald says.
Ferrin plans to appeal ASU's decision; he declined an interview request.
ASU, for its part, refuses to acknowledge the alleged impending termination or the news headlines that sprung up about it in the past few days.
"The review of the officer's performance, including his handling of the events of May 20, 2014, has entered the phase in which the department will make a final determination about whether discipline is warranted," is all ASU will say about it, according to spokesman Mark Johnson.
ASU declined to reveal when either the FBI investigation or any other investigation regarding Ferrin was completed.
"The whole thing reeks of politics," McDonald says. "It's a witch hunt. Some of the people we asked (Sobraske) to interview were never interviewed. The whole thing is just a farce. Somebody put the word out: 'We've just got to get him.'"
On the other hand, McDonald acknowledged that the notice sent to Ferrin last week alleges a pattern of misconduct on the part of Ferrin. The university is essentially claiming that Ferrin doesn't treat members of the public with courtesy and respect, McDonald says, adding that many police officers receive such complaints by people they cite or arrest.
Records reviewed by New Times shows that, indeed, other ASU cops have received complaints by citizens since Ferrin was hired in 2012. However, Ferrin received the most.
ASU records show that between 2012, when he was hired as a cop, to July of 2014, five complaints were filed against Ferrin. No other officer had drawn more than two "external complaints" in that time frame. The complaints are as follows:
* October 2013: Ferrin was exonerated after an investigation into alleged abusive language and unsatisfactory performance.
* February 2014: A charge of "neglect of duty" was found to be sustained, (Ferrin's only "sustained" allegation). Additional complaints of bias and unsatisfactory performance were found to be unfounded and not sustained, respectively.
Arizona Coyotes vs. San Jose Sharks
TicketsTue., Nov. 1, 7:00pm
Phoenix Suns vs. Portland Trail Blazers
TicketsWed., Nov. 2, 7:00pm
Arizona Coyotes vs. Nashville Predators
TicketsThu., Nov. 3, 7:00pm
Arizona State University Sun Devils Hockey vs. University of Michigan
TicketsFri., Nov. 4, 7:05pm
* March 2014: A charge of abusive language was deemed unfounded.
* May 2014: A complaint of unsatisfactory performance was deemed unfounded.
In that incident, an ASU employee complained that when he began to cross a street in Tempe, Ferrin accused him falsely of failing to use a crosswalk. "I make the law," Ferrin allegedly said, after being told by the citizen that no laws were broken. The employee claims Ferrin grabbed his arm and pushed it up behind his back during the confrontation.
An ASU police sergeant told the employee that Ferrin had been formally reprimanded, the employee says. However, as mentioned, ASU records show the complaint was considered unfounded, so it's unclear why, or if, Ferrin really was reprimanded.
* June 2014: A January 11 complaint that alleged rude and threatening behavior by Ferrin was deemed unfounded.
In that case, a March 2014 letter to then-Police Chief John Pickens by the 40-something woman who complained accuses Ferrin of acting like a bully during a routine traffic stop.
The woman, who had driven the wrong way down a one-way street while dropping her adult daughter off at the Tempe campus, wrote Pickens that Ferrin yelled loudly at her, "like a drill sergeant," causing other citizens to stare. Ferrin allegedly jerked her car door open and threatened to arrest her, reducing the woman to tears.
One of the complaints was later withdrawn, McDonald says, though he didn't know which. (New Times later learned it was the May complaint deemed "unfounded."
"This is ASU trying to grab at anything" as justification for firing Ferrin, McDonald says.
If ASU moves forward with a termination, Ferrin's status as a state employee affords him the option to appeal. ASU says it can't release any reports or information related to employee terminations until after the appeal process is exhausted. McDonald says Ferrin has Sobraske's investigation report, with its findings. New Times asked for a copy, and we'll let you know when we see it.
Meanwhile, in her $2 million claim against ASU, Ore says she's suffering from serious psychological problems due to Ferrin's "vicious attack" and the ongoing media coverage of the incident.
Ore's been working as an assistant professor of rhetoric at ASU since 2011, the year she obtained her doctor of philosophy in rhetoric degree from the University of Pennsylvania. She hasn't taught any classes since one she taught last spring. Through her lawyer, Daniel Ortega, Ore says that ASU has put her on "research leave." Ortega says she's writing a book. Ore declined comment for this article.
Ore raised (and may still be raising) an undisclosed amount of money online through a website that discusses the May arrest in detail, from Ore's point-of-view. With the help of lawyers Benjamin Taylor and Alane Roby, Ore plea-bargained with prosecutors, who agreed to drop three charges in return for a guilty plea to resisting arrest. Ore received a sentence of nine-months' probation.
Despite pleading guilty, Ore now maintains in her November notice of claim that she was falsely accused of resisting arrest and the other allegations.
College Avenue was "closed" at the time she was stopped by Ferrin, she alleges. (While it's true "street closed" signs were on the street, College Avenue was also open to local traffic, and cars were driving on the street, according ASU police.)
Ferrin "aggressively contacted" her, she claims, "erroneously" lectured her about the need to carry ID, and "abruptly snatched Dr. Ore and attempted to force her hands behind her back." The claim then describes the incident that can be seen on video.
Since then, Ore has felt extreme fear and anxiety whenever she sees uniformed police officers, the claims states. She relives the "degradation and humiliation" of the incident every time she sees a media report about it, or "sees her picture in the media." (If you're reading this Dr. Ore, don't worry, we're trying to wrap it up now and it'll be over soon...)
Ironically, Ore accuses ASU of making her feel uncertain about her job future there, and says the school even took away a summer class she'd been assigned to teach. Her bosses "strongly implied" the removal of the class was in retaliation for the arrest, the claim states.
Fortunately, just about that time, Provost Rob Page sent an email to all ASU faculty members stating that ASU was on Ore's side. Page wrote in July that he was "shocked" and "disappointed" by what he saw in the dash-cam video, and that Ore was a "valued" employee, and "outstanding teacher and mentor."
"The university remains supportive of her," Page wrote.
Ore's claim says ASU offered to give the class back to Ore, and then paid her for it. But "additional stress" was created because she thought she might not get the money, the claim states.
Another interesting turn of events in July: The top two officers at ASU police, Chief John Pickens and Assistant Chief Jim Hardina, suddenly left their posts.
ASU insists the departures weren't related to the Ore incident. Pickens, who was made executive director of University Security Initiatives, never talked publicly about it. Hardina -- a veteran cop who now runs a small business -- tells New Times today that the timing of his leaving was coincidental.
Ortega admitted it was nice to have Page's email, plus ASU's impending decision about Ferrin's employment, to support Ore's claim.
"Yes, it's all very favorable," Ortega says of ASU's statements and actions in the case related to his client. He added that state law gives ASU 60 days to respond to the notice of claim. If the university rejects the claim, Ore will definitely file a lawsuit, he says.
Thanks to ASU's willingness to be as politically correct as possible, Ore's looking at a win-win here. We predict she's going to keep her job and be rewarded with a fat settlement check. We'll also go out on a limb and predict that Ore's new book will be a critical look at her arrest experience.
As for Ferrin -- a lose-lose. Despite Ore's embarrassing and immature demeanor during the confrontation, the video shows Ferrin's overly aggressive and unprofessional roadside manner. His reputation's been shot to pieces, despite the fact that some cops think he did nothing wrong. He's lost the public-relations battle and he's about to lose his job, it seems.
The Ore lawsuit may cost ASU some money, but it's likely small potatoes compared to the money lost if the university's perceived as racist.
Got a tip? Send it to: Ray Stern.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Phoenix New Times' biggest stories.